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Boo^s by George N. Kates 

CHINESE HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE 
THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 



THE YEARS 
THAT WERE FAT 



PEKING .-1933-1940 



by George N. Kates 

WITH PHOTOGRAPHS BY 

Hedda Hammer Morrison 




HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 
NEW YORK 



THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Copyright, 1952, by Harper & Brothers 
Printed in the United States of America 

All rights in this book, we reserved. 
No part of the book, may be used or reproduced in any 
manner whatsoever without written permission except in 
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles 
and reviews. For information address Harper & Brothers 
49 East syd Street, New York. 16, N. Y. 

FIRST EDITION 
M-A 



Library of Congress catalog card number: 51-11927 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



i / Loo\ over the Wall I 

ii A Scholar's Household g 

in Wisdom from the Elder Born 28 

iv The Comforts of Life 50 

v Peking: The Grand Design 6$ 

vi The Face of the Capital 82 

vii The Forbidden City 104 

viii Princely Men and Little 126 

i x Grandeur and Gentleness 149 

x The Imperial La^es 171 

xi A Garden in the Mind 190 

xii Summer Palaces 201 

* 

xiii The Hills and Temples 214 

xiv Celestial Time and Space 237 

xv The Welcome While Is Over 258 

Eight pages of photographs by Hedda Hammer Morrison 
mil be found jollowing page 118. 



... In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of a 
river: 

And, behold, there came up out of the river seven 
kine, fatfleshed and well favoured; and they fed in 
a meadow: 

And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, 
poor and very ill favoured and leanfleshed, such as I 
never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness : 

And the lean and the ill favoured kine did eat up 
the first seven fat kine: 

And when they had eaten them up, it could not be 
known that they had eaten them; but they were still 
ill favoured, as at the beginning. So I awoke. 

GENESIS, 41 :i 



And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought 
forth by handfuls. 

GENESIS, 41 .-47 



THE YEARS 
THAT WERE FAT 

PEKING: 1933-1940 



CHAPTER i / Look over the Wall 



IT SEEMED an unusually warm month of June, in the year 1933. 
The Shanghai Express, a very slow train, had labored for several 
days over the broad stretch of this earth's surface extending from the 
Yangtze River in the South to the great plains of North China. It 
behaved like a cruising tramp, stopping in mid-country, spending 
leisurely half hours at local stations. Now the chuffing engine was 
moving sedately, drawing up under the walls of Peking. I was in one 
of the compartments of a third-class railway carriage, eager and exult- 
ant. It was a moment I had longed for. 

Having pierced the outer walls, the train pulled slowly beside the 
Water Gate platform of the main station, leading to a broad avenue 
within the city itself. I stepped out, to tread for the first time the earth 
of Peking. Here were to be spent, as in the biblical parable, the seven 
"fat" years of my life; after which thin cattle also came out of the 
river of time. Here I was to enjoy riches of life surpassing anything 
I had elsewhere known. 

How was it that I, an American in my early middle years, should 
find myself here for no practical reason whatever; launched by my 
own will to pursue what turned out to be, beyond question, the single 
most rewarding adventure of my life? To explain, I must go backward 
for some distance. 

My family's general habit of living had been international. I jiad 
grown up familiar with many countries of Europe, and with Central 



2 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

and South. America as well. An English governess, and later a suc- 
cession of frauleins and mademoiselles, had taught me some of my 
languages. I had gone to school in Mexico City and in New York; to 
college both at Columbia and Harvard and further at Oxford. I had 
traveled thoroughly in the Old World; I had once cruised on a fully- 
rigged sailing vessel as far as Australia and South Africa. Except for 
Scandinavia and Russia, Greece, the eastern shores of the Mediter- 
ranean, and Egypt, I had covered the accepted rounds. 

Perhaps I could not altogether be blamed for feeling minor en- 
thusiasm only, regarding conventional life in my own country. I 
had lived out of it for such long stretches during the formation of my 
habits and character. Perhaps the pattern of American urban winters 
and summer migrations, of light-minded parties among those of my 
own age only, affording rather slim resources for conversation; or 
animated life in summer cottages, with daily bathing and sailing, 
picnicking and dancing pleasurable as these might be for a group 
who had grown up as intimates together were not what by training 
I now was fitted for. So that when an opportunity came for a big 
change, to take a step of consequence, to go to the Far East and thus 
also fill out the largest missing area in the atlas of my wanderings, 
from long habit of travel I almost automatically grasped it. 

I could not then know that the civilization of China unlike all 
those familiar to me borne along on the streams of Greco-Roman or 
of Christian living would appear as of such stamp and consequence, 
of such depth as well as charm and novelty, that its impact would 
change my life. Once a beginning to this venture had been made, all 
went as easily as water flowing downhill. In the midst of my Chinese 
years, in an intermediate stage, I may have felt that the new allegiance 
might eventually compel me to mike at least a partial surrender o 
the old. Yet I outgrew this, a common disease of every intellectual 
childhood, and thenceforth a definitive integration of all that was 
precious to me, West or East, became my goal. 

So, with no more explanation, and above all with nothing in this 
book 'to prove any total superiority of East over West, or the reverse, 
I shall begin this simple enough tale. It is composed of hours that were 
tranquil rather than agitated, made of peaceful enrichment rather 



7 Loo\ over the Wall 3 

than the excitement of adventure. This is no book for those in search 
of any melodrama of the "inscrutable East," of intrigue or treachery 
plotted in an exotic setting. That was the only China when I got 
there which I did not find. In these pages, rather, I hope the reader 
will discover China's bright skies and fair hills, the beauty and charm 
of another world, and the variety of the men and women who peopled 
it, the China ,that in days of quiet labor and hopeful progress granted 
to me the very meaning of my life. 

Yet "Why China?" At the time my decision was made, most of the 
stay-at-homes promptly asked the same question, from censorious 
uncles, bristling with family responsibility, to the most vapid woman 
beside whom I might find myself at an uninteresting party. The chap- 
ters to come will I hope among matters of greater interest attempt 
to answer that question, to which I never was able to return a civil 
answer in kind. The best reply might really have been that of Byron, 
when he was once questioned about why he had left his wife. "The 
answer," he retorted, "is so simple that I cannot tell you!" 

The sequence of events, however, was logical enough. I was in my 
late thirties when I left Hollywood, where away from my normal base 
of university life, I had spent five swiftly moving and diverting years 
surrounded by all the trappings of its fabricated "glamour." That, 
though, is another story. By education and by long discipline I had 
been trained to be a scholar and Hollywood was a venture made on 
surmise only. 

The Chinese have a proverb to the effect that if one rides a tiger, all 
may go well for a precarious while, but it becomes increasingly difficult 
to dismount. For a while my odd pendulum-swing had been from 
Oxford to Hollywood and back again. It was a curious combination, 
but it proved stimulating. At one end was my English college, medieval 
Queen's, conservative and unhurried. Here I was engaged in the tedi- 
ously slow business of procuring the last of my academic degrees, an 
English doctorate. In Oxford, amid endless conversation, teas and 
dinners, with games and sport and long walks sbout the countryside, 
I continued to "read" in European History and the Fine Arts. I spent 



4 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the frequent vacations of the English university year on the Continent, 
in one charming place after another. 

At the other end of the swing, I had been lucky and invented for 
myself what was then a new job, plucking various absurdities, in the 
interest of Paramount's foreign market, from all the films with foreign 
settings then being made in that company's Hollywood studios, or 
on nearby "locations." . During the day there was varied and even 
challenging work. In the evenings, on the tops of rimming hills or in 
beach houses, or else in the palm-surrounded big hotels, there would 
be parties. The stars and executives all became familiar. This was my 
American side. 

Balancing the two had certainly proved diverting enough; and it 
also amused me to observe how my prestige in either of these so dis- 
parate places was helped by even slight further success in the other. 
The dons of Oxford, I discovered, secretly yearned for money (and I 
was making money, lightly and readily) ; while in the villas of Santa 
Monica the producers' wives, considerably ahead of their busy hus- 
bands in adjusting themselves to their new wealth, were much less 
secretively wooing culture (and surely, it always and inevitably ap- 
peared to them, I had that!). 

Moreover, after two years in the California studios, the producers 
themselves granted me leave for the whole of the year following 
except for minor "foreign market" errands in Paris and Rome to 
return to England and there finally to acquire the coveted Oxford 
"D. Phil." I left Hollywood with a crisp new contract in my pocket, 
drawn up at a considerably increased salary, and plans already fixed for 
the time when I should eventually return to bland California again* 
The routine luxuries of American life were already mine. 

Something, nevertheless, was wrong about all this, subtly yet increas- 
ingly wrong. The feeling grew that here was a problem I should 
eventually have to face and solve; since overtly I was having successes 
that others ranked highly, without even maintaining self-respect. Fur- 
ther, it became disquieting to observe how with each pair of advances 
along my double line, I continued to grow less and not more content. 
Finally the hollow sense of an ever-diminishing return became too 
great any longer to be ignored. 



I Loo\ over the Wall 5 

Certainly, in France, to visit a duchess on a leisurely provincial jour- 
ney might seem one variety of ambition gratified; and in the studios 
I could still enjoy watching my salary checks roll in, embossed with 
always larger numbers of so many dollars "exactly." Yet exultation 
from such causes was a matter for secret shame. The perils of capitula- 
tion to snobbery, on the one hand, or else to vulgarity and greed on 
the other, were imminent realities: integrity itself was in danger. 

There began growing a now quite conscious need to discover some 
further, a new and deeper, direction in which to move. More and 
more crucial questions impended. Meanwhile my days in Oxford 
were over; my "welcome while" in those enchanted scenes for youth 
had passed. And a prefiguring of myself as a middle-aged, no doubt 
overworked and neurotic Hollywood magnate, flabby, bald and myopic 
perhaps with a penthouse overlooking metropolitan New York that 
I should never have leisure to occupy, filled with refined furniture 
and other magpie gleanings, became insistent and was quite too hor- 
rible to be borne. 

In Hollywood, at this time, we were making "French versions" that 
were my special responsibility. They were of Maurice Chevalier's cur- 
rent pictures; and, as chief prize of an international stable, he was 
mated as at stud to various American actresses in turn. We contrived 
to have him talk or sing every sequence possible over in French, or 
both stars used French for their musical numbers together. Chevalier, 
glad to be able to present himself more vividly to his own best public, 
took willingly to the scheme; the actresses brushed up schoolday 
French. Then we spliced these improvisings with silent film, "back- 
ing" the latter with scraps of music to cover obvious deficiencies. la 
those early days of the transition from silent to sound pictures, such 
patched reels were a salable product. 

The first of these odd ventures had bubbled with amusement It 
also was a puzzle demanding ingenuity. Yet even here, the sliding, 
diminishing return began setting in without delay. "Production diffi- 
culties" kept growing, moreover, as did our budgets. A point was 
finally readied where the hybrid scheme, competing with a much more 
suitable product meanwhile created in France, seemed no longer prac- 



6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

tical. For the first time in my five years in Hollywood, the pace 
slackened. 

In the spring of 1932 I leapt rapidly from my tiger, at this one brief 
moment when descent was easy; and straightway found myself a little 
surprised alone, whole, and unbitten, walking rapidly in the opposite 
direction. From lush Hollywood, again on secure paths, first I traveled 
back to familiar and conservative New England. In Rhode Island I 
saw and bought a small Noah's ark of a yellow clapboard house, built 
in the mid-eighteenth century, round the corner on a winding back 
road from an old snuff mill that had been the birthplace of Gilbert 
Stuart. This became my unpretentious base, in pleasant, unspoiled 
country. Some months were absorbed in improving it and setting it 
in order; and I first enjoyed a season of domestic pleasure. Then the 
autumn passed and I remained alone there to spend a winter in the 
country. 

A time came on of sweet solitude and reflection. There kept growing 
in me, steadily, an insistent urge to break out from the whole world in 
which I had hitherto moved, to live at last my "true" life altogether 
as I wished it. From this pure height Oxford and Hollywood, with 
their conventional pleasures and stereotyped distractions, seemed really 
not too far apart. From this dispassionate remoteness I could discern 
how much both stressed objective success, how unswervingly both 
worshipedhowever differently at the shrine of the familiar "bitch 
goddess." 

My days were my own, of course, to do with what I would; and I 
had ample leisure for desultory reading. Yet I still cannot fathom how 
chance led me gently down the lane of excellent translations from 
Chinese poetry. I can remember, though, the sense of an impending 
discovery of the first magnitude, the glowing wonder of a pure new 
joy. Again and again I found in these brief poems something that 
relieved me, gratefully returned to a better self, from impalement upon 
the horns of my recent dilemma. So the books multipled, as did mus- 
ings about them in quiet hours; and finally there came the need for a 
new decision. Should I perhaps seriously undertake to learn the diflt- 
cult language that would bring me nearer to this mystery? 



over the Wall 7 

I consulted, and found that it would be possible to return to Harvard 
once more, there to re-enroll myself prosaically, to sit in some dull 
college building, with fire escapes at the windows, in the familiar 
college yard, with students much younger than myself, young men 
with other ambitions and other destinies; there to do what? The 
scheme was unpalatable. 

So I drove back to my little house, now lost in the drifts of the 
snowy countryside, with a small stack of grammars and textbooks 
from the college library; and beside my own hearth I set about to ex- 
plore the beginnings alone. The solitude, the white silence, were ideal 
for the experiment. Rapidly I verified my first surmise that here indeed 
was a completely new way of looking at the world, wholly unsuspected 
during all my formal education, one that consistently refreshed and 
expanded my deeper self, with power and ease such as I had never 
guessed before. This was really to be lifted to heights, with splendid 
prospects. The familiar pleasures of Europe shriveled in the compari- 
son. Glimpses of a quite other scheme of life, distant and heroic, in- 
herent in the very formation of the ancient picture writing underlying 
Chinese characters, promised more insight into the mysteries of his- 
torical time than any discovery I ever had made. My new occupation 
absorbed me. 

Early in the following year, now well-launched upon a course that 
might seem to others, I knew, sheer folly, I decided to take passage in 
a ship, and go to China itself. The reader should know at this point 
that I had very little money with which to do this. A margin account 
with a large brokerage firm that had gone into bankruptcy had trans- 
formed nearly all my Hollywood earnings into pure fool's gold. In 
time, I came to see that this final transmutation, this reversion of the 
intrinsically base and unstable back to itself once more, did fittingly 
end my California adventure. 

So I went to the Boston Common, one tender spring afternoon, 
when thoughts floated naturally away toward other horizons, to do 
business at Cook's. With a ticket in my pocket for a berth in a ship 
going through the Panama Canal, and thence to Victoria, in British 
Columbia (where I was to transfer to the Canadian Pacific's white 



8 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Empress of Asia), I felt confident that I had veered not away from, 
but comfortingly nearer to my true, if still little revealed course. 

There came a morning, after several weeks of travel, when looking 
through the ring of my brass porthole, low in the ship, I gazed for the 
first time down upon muddy and swirling, yellow-brown and summer- 
warm waters, the estuary of the Yangtze. Later, after a long day, 
Shanghai finally loomed ahead, the smoke-filled air of its curving 
Bund reminiscent of mighty London. Here, halfway across the world, 
I had reached a metropolis againyet one with components utterly 
different from those already familiar. 

Here I disembarked, each minute filled with new sensation. Half- 
stripped coolies in multitudes, turbaned Sikhs, White Russian water 
police; occasional curving Chinese roofs between newer buildings, 
rickshas, giant advertisements in characters: actors and scenery, all 
were different. Passing through customs I made my way without 
haste, through dead urban air, to an international hotel. I well knew 
that this was not China, although there were native elements in the 
amalgam. 

In Shanghai, therefore, I remained for but one night, dining amid 
the babble of the hotel restaurant; and departing on that following 
for Nanking. I wished to be on my way. Nanking, then the capital, 
became another torrid day, spent largely from breakfast onward in 
the darkened and shady house of our Consul General That evening 
at Pukow, the broad Yangtze crossed by ferry in late rosy light, voluble 
Chinese in fluttering silk gowns fanning themselves beside me, I en- 
tered the Shanghai Express, that very slow train, which crawled halt- 
ingly toward the tawny northern plains, to my destination from the 
beginning, Peking. 

Somewhere on that journey, as the wind blew the golden dust o 
North China over the earth's gentle slopes, amid low mud-walled 
farmhouses and everywhere grave mounds made of the soil itself, I 
arrived in the country that for the next seven years of abundance was 
to become intimately my own. 



CHAPTER ii A Scholar's Household 



THE Shanghai Express deposited me on a platform just below 
the surprisingly medieval thick walls enclosing that part of Pe- 
king known as the Tartar City. When the European fire chariots were 
first run upon their iron roads, as the Chinese phrase it, it had be- 
come necessary to coin words for everything connected with them. 
So a railway platform was oddly dubbed a moon-viewing verandah; 
nothing nearer to it, in the Chinese world, could be thought of. 

Upon this moon-viewing verandah, then, I descended. Porters 
shouldered my luggage, and I found my way through the archway of 
the lofty Water Gate. Here a broad canal once had pierced the great 
walls; and the paved boulevard that now covered it ran first through 
the modern Legation Quarter and then into more native parts of the 
city. 

Once beyond the barrier, my bags were hoisted into one ricksha, 
I mounted another, and off the vehicles sped to the Peking Language 
School. Here missionary care had made for newcomers a sizable 
group of rectangular buildings, cemented, clean, and as much as 
possible reminiscent of the West, with grass-plats, tennis courts, and 
even mild shower baths and other "foreign style" comforts. It was 
not China; yet I was grateful for the comparative ease with which I 
could here immediately take the preliminary steps toward mastering 
a proud and uncommunicative tongue, as well as a way of living 
thoroughly different from any familiar in the West, 

9 



10 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

If I had one conviction about the technique o opening up any new 
country, it was that with fluency in speech all the rest would follow 
easily and naturally. If one must shift from one foot to another in 
owl-like silences, the very tinkle of the amused laughter that eventu- 
ally one cannot but rouse, chills* the blood. One then has no heart; 
and timidity in crossing these frontiers, difficult at best, is a poor habit 
to develop. So I determined to pay the piper generously first; and 
then trust him to play good music for me. In this I was not disappointed. 

Fortunately my small room on an upper story of the Language 
School, had a side window that gave out not toward missionary 
families on leave, apparently content to chat endlessly as they sat 
about on the neat lawn, but instead intimately to a back alley. This 
was literally my first window on the Orient. Here in midsummer, 
flushed with the pleasure of some first purchase of a trinket at the 
neighboring fair, the bright evening light made lyric by the perfume 
floating in the still air of recently bought "evening fragrant jade," 
a wax-colored flower of deeply sensuous scent, I looked and listened 
as shifting scenes of Chinese life came indolently past beyond the 
missionary wall. 

My scheme of attack on the language began conventionally enough, 
although I started without delay, feeling strongly that it must under- 
lie all other plans. Together with earnest missionaries in summer 
clothes I spent the first warm season in Peking, going over the be- 
ginners' course with beginners' teachers, in no way deviating from 
the system considered proper for these first steps. Of course, I wanted 
to see the city promptly, too. So I often slipped away for the fun of 
a great fair, held three days out of every ten at Lung Fo Ssu, a temple 
by happy chance only a brief walk from the ordered lawns of the 
school. 

Outside the decent missionary gates, another and pleasantly tur- 
bulent world was waiting. Under the sails of the cloth awnings of the 
fair, the babble, the milling crowds, the great game of bargaining, 
buying and selling, made a grateful relief from institutional tameness. 
Here I made my first two purchases, a small yellow glazed dish and 
also a blue and white porcelain-covered jar. I can still remember the 



A Scholar's Household n 

excitement of these earliest biddings in Chinese, at one-third the 
asking price which was what the missionary "old hands" had told 
me to try and how the objects were promptly thrust into my inex- 
perienced hands I I have them still. 

When this summer session ended, taking a teacher with me, and 
only light luggage, I went by ricksha (a long ride) to the Language 
School hostel in the Western Hills. Except for a single elderly couple, 
two dignified White Russians living in retirement there, its few brick 
houses were that year deserted. The accommodation was crude, the 
Chinese food obviously adulterated to agree with supposed foreign 
tastes. My Chinese teacher, middle-aged, rotund, and easy going, was 
a cheerful man for daily society; and the roomy screened porch of the 
separate house set apart for our combined use was perched high upon 
the slope of an unusually steep and rocky hill, with a broad view of 
tawny fields of already ripening grain lying far below. In the shade, 
we thus looked down upon a serene and peaceful world. 

Here I spent the long midsummer days, writing, practicing brush 
strokes, pronouncing the new and difficult syllables. Early or late, I 
could be off at will for a scramble up to the peaks or down to the 
plain; and a mere moment after my decision, the screen door bang- 
ing behind me, I was in the countryside of China, alone. 

How completely the vastness of this Asiatic land enfolded me! In 
the heat, the distant hills were the deep color of mountain bluebells. 
The peasants kept out of the glare' when the sun was high, so that 
often the roads I traversed in my khaki shorts and Western leather- 
soled shoes were deserted. Yet walking digested the discoveries of 
the past hours; and the high and airy small brick house was good to 
come back to. 

Upon returning to Peking, after one more short course I ceased 
to be a day pupil in the Language School; although for years I had 
first a native teacher from our American Legation, and then one whom 
I requested from the staff of the school again, specially permitted to 
come out to me. Happily, of course, I had already made my first be- 
ginning in now distant Rhode Island. For if language is always a 
barrier, that of China cannot inaptly be called her other Great Wall, 
so superbly difficult of assault is it, and seemingly also so endless. 



12 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Almost upon my arrival in Peking, I began to be told of the fabu- 
lous difficulty of this study. I heard of eccentric consuls who had spent 
long and barren years investigating complex dialects, which nobody 
"really understood; and of the local British scholar who went about 
with a box of dark glass forever shielding his eyes: he had used them 
up, it was said, reading too many Chinese characters. During my 
first days in the Language School I was solemnly warned by the 
unenlightened that too niuch work would affect my brain here, es- 
pecially if it were attempted in summer. Or else I was informed that 
reading vertically as Chinese is written would be hard on the sight. 

Besides the tellers of such tales, there were also the professional 
Sinologues, although many of these I had now left behind me in the 
Western world. Such specialists were convinced that Chinese history 
(at least as history to their taste) had ended long ago; and certain 
pedants even maintained that the contemporary daily speech, although 
the living property of some four to five hundred million souls, was 
beneath the dignity of higher learning. So, usually from a distance, 
these specialists became wiser and wiser about matters ever more re- 
mote; although they were often helpless I came to learn when they 
arrived in Peking, the fountainhead of all their studies, and wanted 
perhaps to have a pair of shoes cobbled, or (as was not unusual) had 
an altercation with the cook. When I began to understand what the 
advocates of this orthodox school could not see, like owls blinking 
in the sunlight, I was less impressed. After only a modest few months, 
I could comprehend matters, not unimportant, that they elaborately 
missed. 

The feeling of what I must do gradually crystallized itself into a 
formula. I would treat Peking as Paris. There, in time gone by, I 
had once lived very simply, much nearer to the heart of Gallic France 
than my friends of passage, perched during their short journeys in 
more fashionable parts of the city. Peking as Paris it would be for 
me, for speech and daily communication, for food and shelter as well, 
and even if self-consciousness did not interpose for dress and other 
matters of local custom. 

Wiseacres of long residence, generally established foreign style in 
the Legation Quarter, and the diplomatic corps generally, called this 



A Scholars Household 13 

"going native." The words were supposed of themselves to be suffi- 
cient admonition to deter one from such an awful course* Further, the 
occasional "flitterati," as I have since heard them called, who really 
had gone native, did bear out the dread prediction. Other ruddy- 
faced Europeans, complacently defying Western hygiene in no secret 
way, declared that they seriously feared for my health if I actually 
planned to live in a completely unimproved Chinese house. 

Yet my scheme was different from those they disparaged in that it 
in no way aimed at picturesqueness for its own sake; and also be- 
cause I had early resolved not to waste energies by seesawing between 
two worlds contradictory in the local pattern. As soon as I was no 
longer bound to places considered "civilized," constrained to the 
routine that inevitably went with them, I felt sure that I could readily 
begin to plow deep into what was so simply about me. And so indeed 
it turned out. 

Of all the joys of those bygone days the best and most intimate 
except for relations to persons and continuing advance in the dis- 
covery of the world that was China centered about the establish- 
ment of my own household. To run it well and economically led 
me down wholly unsuspected paths, into local and native situations 
which the tourist or the guest can never know. Here I myself came 
by adoption to be considered almost Chinese, custom prescribing un- 
suspected limits yet probity achieving unhoped-for rewards. My little 
kingdom was eventually administered according to strict local propri- 
ety faei-chu, it was called, "rule and compass" by two servants who 
became part of my own life. They were so truly sons of their own 
land that they had never learned the devious language of any for- 
eignerand with it ways to circumvent him. Indeed so little had 
they mastered the non-Chinese world that neither of them could 
even mount a self-propelling chariot, in other words a bicycle. 

When one of the two went on an errand or to market by ricksha, 
this might come a little higher, in fractional coppers. (Today, alas, so 
terrible has been the loss in value of China's currency that the com- 
plete living of several years for all three of us no longer buys a single 
postage stamp, for letters that come occasionally as from another world.) 
Cleaving to the required and only proper way of doing what was 



14 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

necessary if a Chinese household were to be set up correctly and well 
run, we breasted one by one every conceivable problem through the 
rolling seasons. And as the seasons turned to years I too grew in 
confident mastery of the operation. At that time the comparatively 
brief span of my sojourn was of course not revealed to me. I was 
building for permanence, ever enlarging my original foothold. Yet I 
must first go back to beginnings; all this developed only gradually, 
with the passage of time. 

The Language School held no disappointments but only help for 
me during my first months in Peking. Without speech, I was by no 
means yet ready to grapple with the difficulties of setting up native 
housekeeping. I was aware of this, and therefore grateful and fro 
ternpore content. I had from the beginning, further, that precious 
window from my missionary bedroom which gave on to the back 
alley that was really China. In retrospect, most of those first summer 
evenings as I sat preparing lessons at a bare little desk, I was really 
observing an enormous play in which the characters were all real 
held out-of-doors amid what still seemed to me quite improbable 
scenery: "Act I. Midsummer. A maze of house walls, to the west of an 
old Manchu palace, Peking." 

The stage was perpetually animated, the action timed as by an im- 
presario. I learned then for the first time how everything in China 
at some time or other comes bounding along on a carrying pole. The 
peculiar rhythm with which the springy wood rises and falls to the 
almost trotting pace of a coolie carrying a heavy load, or the quiet 
stalking of long-robed figures when the baskets are empty, these are 
the norms of Chinese energies. Only one must multiply them over 
the breadth of the land by myriads upon myriads. For man is the beast 
of burden in that land, his muscles are his intimate and often his 
only capital, the very guarantee of his survival. Since other laws of 
physics apparently are valid there, perhaps he is right when he as- 
sures us that when a flexible stout pole rises high, almost twanging 
the taut basket strings as it leaps, half the time the load is carrying 
itself I The carrying pole is a primary Chinese invention. 

On those long evenings, as the rosy dusk faded, I could listen to the 



A Scholar's Household 15 

brisk babble, finally diminishing to a murmur, of all the unceasing 
buying and selling, through house doors, of such things hawked by 
peddlers as curious foods to eat and drink: the fresh crabs, the sprout- 
ing beans, the iced bitter-prune soup, or almond tea. After bargaining, 
they finally went within, to give someone unseen beyond the walls 
the satisfactions of taste, and to the vendor at the doorway a little 
lighter burden and a few more coppers. Bitter toil this was, yet its 
rewards were sweet; and for all the scheming to cadge an extra copper 
wherever possible, it was a deeply human proceeding, in which neither 
party could attack the personal dignity of the other without himself, 
in public estimation, losing face. 

For an informal open court, the inevitable "cloud of witnesses" is 
ever ready in China to pronounce judgment on such matters. In time 
I saw many an unthinking Westerner, or later perhaps some Japanese 
officer punch-drunk with recent conquest, put into his place so in- 
escapably that he could only recognize and publicly accept the subtle 
moral defeat. This was achieved simply by the slow action of the by- 
standers, always free to look and never abashed at using their privilege; 
free to comment on what was happening upon the public stage, the 
open street. I too learned to gaze upon the onlookers, with a new 
composure. 

In my room, then, dreaming of how I should enlarge my foothold 
upon this new strand (for the curious quality of Chinese life to ex- 
pand itself physically by all available means, to acquire property and 
prosper with it, had already taken deep hold of me), I would lie down 
on my crunching bed. Then through the night, half through my sleep 
I could hear the strange sounds of the clappers and cymbals of the 
night watchmen. I think they must always have gone in pairs, those 
gentle Peking watchmen, characteristically attempting to frighten 
away marauders rather than to run any risk of encountering them. The 
sonorous wood of their clappers echoed rhythmically, so that its re- 
peated tic, tic, toc-toc gave the slumbering burgher, hearing it even 
through his dreams, an accurate sense of the progress of the night 
watches. As the double hours each twice as long as our own went 
by, the signals on the clapper lengthened. Following its staccato an- 
nouncements came the muffled, vast, percussion of a pair of gigantic 



l6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

cymbals. I still recall how this hushed metallic sound voyaged through 
the deep night air, making me, too, now reposing safe within the 
great walls, secure to plan what I should do, and possess, on the 
morrow. 

Months passed filled with other adventures. Even before I rented 
my own first little house, there were three other places where I was to 
live. Two were in the courtyards of friends; one was an inn. In the 
first I had a pair of narrow and elongated rooms facing a pleasant 
although shallow court. European glass windows gave on to its quite 
operatic scenery, complete with fronds of overhanging foliage and a 
small tile-roofed projecting kitchen. These rooms were against the 
street, and behind their uneven plaster walls was a Peking lane or 
hu-t'ung. The life of the street was now becoming familiar enough 
to me so that if at dawn I heard the rumble of heavy wooden cart 
wheels just beyond the head of my bed, I knew that this was an 
early load of sacks of freshly ground flour coming into the city, flour 
from which the North Chinese made the ping or unleavened wheaten 
cakes, which they ate instead of the Southerners' rice. 

In this house was a paved square inner courtyard planted with four 
lilacs so tall as to be really trees. The dusty northwest winds were 
usually blowing when they came to blossom in the spring, to remind 
us that Peking was not so far from the high deserts of Central Asia. 
Yet there were usually one or two evenings when a silver moon 
hung tranquil over the roofs and we were drawn by the spectacle to 
a small colonnade on the north side of this court. There we sat facing 
due south as all proper orientation in China requires. Repose was in 
the air, and we were usually half-mesmerized from the fatigues of a 
spring day. The scent of the lilacs made us drowsy with a sense of 
infinite life going along its renewed way, beyond the walls and mysteri- 
ously in the lanes. 

Moonlight seemed to have drained the perfume from the feathery 
flowers, and their color was pale in contrast to the cracked rose lacquer 
columns or the shadowy gold and blue-green bracketing of the cornices 
above. We sat quietly on, observing it all obliquely, almost as from a 
box at the opera. Only when the moon rose high in the sky, and its 
light became colder, did we break the spell. 



A Scholar's Household 17 

He who possesses a Chinese courtyard, possesses both by day and 
night a well o light, which the seasons endlessly fill with incalculable 
riches. One winter's day, in the house where I lived subsequently, a 
small tree that grew in its courtyard was at its wintry barest, when 
o a sudden there was the celestial rush o wings, and a large flock of 
bluejays in graceful movement peopled its branches as if to substitute 
their own lovely plumage for the leaves now withered and gone. The 
effect was astonishing, but once created the birds promptly flew away 
again, as if they knew quite surely what they had done. 

The owner of this second house was an artist who had temporarily 
deserted Peking and North China to examine the more lush charms of 
Siam. I fell heir to his larger quarters, which provisionally I had 
completely to myself, with only the main room of the largest court, 
his studio, unheated and therefore closed for the winter. To the east 
I had my private dwelling; and from my bed all was silver (the 
artist had so papered his walls) and rich color. High polished blond 
hardwood wardrobes, with lofty "hat cupboards" set on top, simple 
furniture of excellent design with gleaming brasses, partitioned this 
room into study and alcove. One low little door, its soft wood fancifully 
carved and painted in chalky blues and pinks, led to a small bathing 
chamber like a secret hive. Here in semi-darkness and in warmed 
damp air, a bath seemed conventionally Oriental. 

Across from these quarters, symmetrically and to the west, was a 
combination of living and dining room; and attached to it, matching 
my bathing chamber, was a small kitchen. On the wall in the center of 
the main room was suspended a large scroll, an ancestor portrait of an 
old crone in faded scarlet robes, her phoenix headdress dripping with 
strands of heavy pearls. Often she alone presided at my solitary meals, 
to which I was summoned each evening by a white-gowned and 
slippered servant. Full, as I was of the excitements and lessons of the 
day, this at the moment was company enough for dinner. 

It was this servant who taught me my first Chinese song. With only 
moderate success, I fear, I tried to imitate the curious intonation neces- 
sary. Yet as I gradually began to master it a change came over me: 
I could feel how it would be were I Chinese, singing of what was 
my own. 



l8 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Thus ran the song: 

Beneath the trees, one asked the young apprentice. 
He answered saying: "The Master's gone to gather herbs. 

He remains indeed in these very mountains; 
Yet the clouds are so thick, one cannot know where." 

As my delivery grew to approximate correctness, I could picture 
myself within the misty hills of Chinese landscape, also seeking a 
master who had disappeared into the billowing clouds, searching for 
herbs that brought the body purity, and finally immortality. 

A fire would be crackling in the Western cast-iron stove, a sweet 
would be followed by fruit, with a finger bowl of amber Peking glass; 
and I would be sitting alone, absorbed in some new revealing detail, 
probably learned only within the last hours, of the great scheme of 
living so long ago fashioned in the Chinese world, its precepts un- 
concerned with our own. Mysteries were being revealed, dignities 
conferred, which even that morning I had probably never even sus- 
pected. 

When the tenant of these courts eventually returned to Peking, I 
decided to venture somewhat further into the native pattern, this time 
moving to a local inn, one lane away. It had once been quite a large 
palace, in this good old quarter of the city; and although I had here 
only a single room, opening onto a so-called "mixed" courtyard, 
there were many other better courts along ramified passageways within 
its walls. There was also a withdrawn arbor, painted a vibrant deep 
green and covered with wisteria, in a small paved garden down an 
internal lane at the back. 

Arrangements at the inn were most convenient. I could have Chinese 
food, such as, for example, steamed dumplings stuffed with savory 
chopped vegetables, served with hot tea, brought to me at any hour 
of the twenty-four that fancy might dictate. I also now had an excel- 
lent opportunity to see completely Chinese life at close quarters. Fathers 
and mothers lolled with their children lying upon their beds, the 
doors wide open to our common court now that spring had come. 
Gentle animal caressings, completely unabashed, went on in almost 



A Scholar's Household 19 

puppy fashion for hours on. end. This was for me a new variety of 
fondling. However hard life may later become, most Chinese children 
are certainly well loved. 

Old men would order broad tubs of scalding water, and sit at their 
doorsteps in the court, slowly soaking their feet in public after a long 
day, meanwhile chatting contentedly with their neighbors. Civility 
and good humor made up the pattern of this communal living; here 
was the way an old people got along together when privacy was not 
possible. 

There was also a single Japanese student, my neighbor, who had 
come to Peking to study, and was meeting with quite apparent dif- 
ficulty in mastering the rudiments of Chinese. His ancient teacher 
shouted at him daily; but a typical Japanese trouble in the control of 
his breath made imitation unsuccessful. So the shouting continued. 
Through sheer repetition I reaped a part of the benefit. Once a month, 
regularly, this young man would disappear for an officially granted 
"night off," since he was a student sent from Japan by his government. 
For the next twenty-four hours his small room would be closed and 
silent; then the following day the tense reading and monotonous repe- 
tition would be resumed. 

To have lived thus naturally, with such neighbors, in a completely 
Chinese tsa yuan or "mixed court," later always gave me an assurance 
of knowing, rather than of merely guessing, how life went on in humble 
dwellings. For not many Chinese can afford to spread out as could, in 
Peking, even the most unpretentious Westerner; and in that inn I 
learned how much ordinary Chinese manners were based upon the 
virtual impossibility of ever achieving solitude except by the hazard 
of circumstance. Twenty-five centuries ago Confucius was already 
counseling his countrymen to avoid crowds and noise, to cultivate 
quietness; and the rich definitely did appreciate these amenities. Yet 
Chinese families were seldom as small as in the modern West; and 
almost never in the old order, of course, could a young husband and 
wife possibly live together apart from their elders. 

The time came eventually, after several months of this life, and 
after a last interlude as the guest of another absentee owner, when 



20 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

I felt ready to move into my own house. After diligent search I dis- 
covered a suitable small court, isolated and near to the east city wall 
which I could thus climb on early morning walks at a rental so low 
that even with the two Chinese servants whom I now hired, I still 
was spending only the smallest sum every month. Financially I knew 
that the experiment would prove no strain. 

I determined from the outset that my new establishment should 
be completely Chinese, to such an extent that the first winter I heated 
my rooms only with coal-balls (coal dust mixed with clay), kept 
flaming in an old-fashioned and shining pot-bellied Chinese brass 
stove, without a stove pipe. Further, I slept on a 1(ang, the raised brick 
platform found in every North Chinese house, similarly heated from 
below by a small portable brazier, and so arranged with flues that a 
minuscule fire would gently warm the whole of its felt-covered brick 
surface. In the dark night all was Orientally cozy, my high beamed 
ceilings ruddy with flickering light from the stove. 

To the south, there was a small house for my servants, opposite the 
main one for myself, a combined kitchen and storeroom to the east, 
and no building but a high white-plastered wall enclosing the court 
to the west. My own dwelling, facing south of course, was thus bathed 
in afternoon sunlight. The whole formed a single cell, small and com- 
pact, yet making a paved space under the open sky, all in complete 
privacy. 

Here were learned my first lessons in housekeeping. Yet in retro- 
spect this house occupies only a little place in memory, since before 
even a year had gone by it was supplanted by what was to become, 
and remains for me, "my house in China." 

This was a larger and a much more dignified dwelling. It had no less 
than three communicating courts; all its roofs sloped harmoniously. 
Within the first court grew a gigantic linden tree so ramified that it 
spread its benison over a large part of the property. This treasure my 
servants discovered for me only after methodical search, and much 
reading of small handwritten notices pasted at entrances to lanes in 
all parts of the town I had thought well of. It lay within the Imperial 
City, on the site of the former Wax Storehouse, still the name of its 



A Scholar's Household 21 

lane, where once eunuchs had been in charge of the candles supplied 
to the palace. It was also delightfully near both the Forbidden City 
and the pleasure grounds of the imperial lakes, as well as the Chinese 
university, where by this time I had begun to attend lectures. 

Never had foreigners lived in the place before, and this was one of 
the grounds for my choice. Its old-fashioned rooms were innocent of 
improvement. The place still belonged to an old palace eunuch, bob- 
bing and rotund, who formerly had been, I was told, in 'the per- 
sonal service of the Emperor, from whom this property had come as 
a gift. He possessed, honorifically and somewhat unusually, the doubt- 
ful luxury of a harridan of a wife, whose bad temper and scolding 
tongue promptly became a source of grinning amusement to my 
servants, who felt that their origin was only too baldly obvious. This 
strange couple continued to live at one side of my new domain, in a 
second and smaller house which they also owned, over the wall. On 
a still day we could overhear quite a little of their outdoor conversa- 
tion. Since they had never made any changes, my courts fortunately 
still had all their traceried windows intact, and so retained their 
proper appearance. 

We negotiated and negotiated, through intermediaries; finally a 
suitable sum for rental was determined. The conservative owners 
were apprehensive, but on my part I was happy to agree to alter as 
little as possible. When with internal excitement I had first walked 
through the long empty rooms, dust lying thick on the floors, there 
was a J(ang in almost each of them. I wished to preserve only one 
of these for my own bedroom since they did take up much space. 
Yet I agreed to save the brick from those we dismantled, and I ordered 
it placed in an internal alley behind one of the side-houses, lest when 
my days should be over the eunuch or his wife were ever to wish for 
their many platforms back again. 

No electric light, no wooden floors (brick covered with matting suf- 
ficed), no heating apparatus except several cast-iron stoves, and no 
plumbing did I ever install. During all my years there, kerosene lamps 
were brought in to shed their soft light at nightfall; and as for running 
water, long ago in Oxford I had learned how unnecessary this was, 
with willing servants, if one were unhurried. I did not rip out the 



22 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

pretty geometric window tracery, to install more glass than the little 
I found; there were no unsightly wires, no clumsy digging for ill- 
concealed pipes or ducts. Nothing marred the excellent lines of the 
large well-proportioned inner court, my private one; and so my house, 
while extremely comfortable, remained more authentically Chinese 
than any that I can recall belonging to Western friends. 

From the beginning, the place fitted the three of us perfectly. The 
servants, indeed, made their plans with particular satisfaction: this 
was a kind of installation they knew how to manage. In keeping 
house, a bachelor is always faced with a dilemma. Either he does 
things too well, and his setting becomes elaborate; or else he is a 
solitary, living gracelessly in rooms devoid of amenity, unable to offer 
proper hospitality. Together, the three of us might avoid these ex- 
tremes. From the first we sensed that the whole was ours, slowly to be 
perfected perhaps, but permanent and not a makeshift. 

From the lane one entered by a cha-lan mn, or "barrier gate," plain 
and of solid construction. Its red color had now turned to faded rose; 
its double doors were broad enough to allow one leaf only to be opened 
for visiting rickshas. By a gentle incline the gray brick paving sloped 
downward into my first court, where across from the entrance was a 
deep and roomy, flat-roofed, kitchen. My great tree grew here, outside 
the kitchen door, its rugged branches sparkling with snow in winter, 
under the pure blue sky of North China, and a palace of foliage to keep 
the earth shady and fresh when the summer sun burned overhead. 

To the north of this outer court was a very small intermediate one, 
where my servants lived, within easy call from within. My second, 
and formal, entrance gate gave on to this. It was quite elaborate, as 
custom prescribed, with much carved gray brick decoration under 
its ornamented ridge, and red lozenges bearing auspicious characters 
painted upon its green door panels. Set squarely opposite it was a 
"screen of respect," also of carved brick, forming part of the wall 
shielding my third and last court, for dwelling. To this one entered 
by a further gate, also with double doors; but for privacy it had been 
set obliquely across from the first. Both entrances had the high wooden 
thresholds that make a foreigner, for his first few months in any 



A Scholar's Household 23 

Chinese city, feel as i he were on shipboard. Within, finally, was my 
own dwelling space three houses, a main one and at right angles 
two slightly lower side-houses facing each other the most comfortable 
and tranquil habitation that I have ever known. 

From the first we arranged the flowering plants in this inner court, 
and the lotus that we kept in a shallow tank there, completely in 
Chinese fashion. From this place open to the heavens, we watched 
the seasons in their turning majesty, always surrounded by some token 
of what grew to its best in each. 

Oleanders and pomegranates, in earthen pots, alternated on a low 
stone step running the full length of my main house. This, facing 
south, is always the largest and best building in the traditional system; 
and whatever was placed to grow there always received the best sun- 
light. In front of both my east and west side-houses, opposite each 
other across the court, I set out fig trees, in broad earthenware tubs. 
I never ceased to marvel how quickly their leaves grew each spring, 
when the dumpy tubs were rolled out from their winter storage in a 
small "ear room" attached to the main house. (I had two of these 
ear rooms, so-called because they were projections added to the sides 
of the deeper main building.) The figs gave further pleasure when 
the fruit turned from bottle-green to inky-purple, becoming so ripe 
that it would split open of itself in the sun. Wliile walking about in 
comfort at home, I could then stop at one of the small trees, pluck 
one at will, and eat. 

In the autumn we set out many potted chrysanthemums, never so 
grand of course as in the palace, where the last young Empress had 
had little silver bells fastened to her own plants, which then tinkled 
in the wind as the year grew cold. Nevertheless they were fine in 
color, rusty reds or pale yellows, and according to Chinese super- 
stition their clean scent prolonged life. Everyone knew that the chrysan- 
themum was thus the flower of immortality; and one often heard that 
it was also admired because at the end it knew how to die with dignity 
and grace. In China one takes the allegory of flowers seriously. 

I did not experiment with goldfish because to breed them properly 
required more apparatus of shallow buckets and flat wooden tanks 
topped with wire mesh to keep off curious birds than I wished to 



24 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

install in this place. Yet my rose lotus, on center in its deep tub o 
gray earthenware, directly opposite my traceried main double doors, 
reflected the sky in the water under its leaves; and the allegories of 
its growth, its fleeting hours of marvelous beauty, and then its decay, 
were the grandest of all. 

From my first litde house I moved over enough furniture to start 
housekeeping quite decently in these roomier quarters. Soon, however, 
I was enthusiastically making plans for expansion, and even down- 
right luxury. In a grandly decaying capital, temptation was constantly 
spread before me. Everywhere the old order was crumbling; its once 
fine possessions no longer usable by many now lacking even the neces- 
sities of life. Had one wished to do on a large scale what I was 
doing on a small one, the opportunities would have been magnificent. 
Proud palaces were being dismantled or demolished. Every petty mer- 
chant, too, practiced the fine art of conjuring up new desires, which 
his eloquence sought to turn to urgent needs in just such heads as mine. 

Yet for the objects of daily use that I wished to buy, if one were 
known not to be rich and also spoke the language readily, one need 
never have the uneasy fear of being cheated, or the disgust of finding 
that imitation had been foisted upon one. Further, I bargained for 
nothing ruthlessly taken from its setting, nor shorn of its roots. My 
unpretentious good furniture, the simple pewter or porcelain dishes 
for my table, were bought unhurriedly as they caught my fancy. Also 
they were not merchandise with which one could easily be swindled. 

Sometimes, of course, my purse could not bear the drain of some 
latest enthusiasm; yet there was in Peking a typical pan fa or "working 
plan" even for this. The sympathetic owner of a good curio shop out- 
side the Great Front Gate, in the Chinese City, who was a quiet sen- 
sitive man, saw me one wintry day thus smitten with desire, unable 
to extricate myself between a sudden longing and the inability to 
gratify it. As we sat in his back room, quietly drinking steaming tea 
at a table covered with a stretch of fine Chinese carpet, he def tly helped 
me to help myself. 

"Take this home with you, now," he said, referring to the quite 
unnecessary object that at the moment completely held my fancy 



A Scholar's Household 25 

it was an old, plain, deep-yellow ivory, scepter -"and then, when you 
have loved it sufficiently, bring it back to me again!" We smiled at 
each other; in China ample leisure made this a solution altogether ac- 
ceptable to both parties (although I did keep the object, as one 
retaining pleasant associations). 

So through the years, the local porters who earned their living bear- 
ing heavy objects upon their heads, carried through my barrier gate, 
one after another, pieces of the most excellent simple furniture, of 
hardwood so dense that it was said to sink in water, so beautiful in 
grain and surface that it was often like the back of a fine old violin* 
Even at a time as late as this, nothing like it in design or quality had 
yet appeared in American museums; their random and fussily carved 
late "teak" pieces, like the heavy cloisonne ornaments that often ac- 
companied them, were curios rather than household furniture. 

I also hunted out every kind of fabric, from old brocade to stenciled 
peasant blue cotton, every kind of metalwork, gleaming brass or cop- 
per, satiny pewter, a little ivory, much red leather, rugs of fine color 
from western China, whole categories of scrolls and inscriptions, small 
objects of dark lacquer, of brass-rimmed burl or other curiously grained 
and unknown woods. It remained a student bachelor's house, of course; 
for although the elaborate always did exist alongside the plain wherever 
I went searching, I chose only the latter. My sober range of dignified 
furniture, I found, was one almost unknown to the West, whereas 
the complicated varieties were only too familiar, in part because of the 
general level of taste in our stupid nineteenth century, and in part also 
because of the vested interest of Philistine merchants. 

As time went along, and as my teachers and servants made matters 
clearer, I became aware that I had stumbled upon a discovery. At first 
unknowingly following my personal tastes and then with con- 
scious intent, I was apparently reconstructing the vanished setting of 
the scholar class, of the old literati, with objects for elegant if unpre- 
tentious domesticity rather than for display at court. This was the way 
private houses had looked in days of now vanished prosperity, before 
the old tradition broke down after its melancholy impact with an ag- 
gressive West. The sobriety, the simplicity, and the good taste were 
the scholar's; and I found that they had long existed, unnoticed by the 



2,6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

art historian, as the normal furnishing for the men of taste and in- 
telligence of their time. 

No matter in what field I directed this search, I was constantly 
struck by the infinitely varied ingenuity with which the Chinese fash- 
ioned even the simplest objects. It was a skill that never could have 
led to complex mechanical discovery; it aimed too directly at some 
simple comfort, at producing some pleasure that refined the art of 
living. These satisfactions once procured, it stopped. 

Yet boxes opened or closed in the most diverting or inconceivable 
ways; pots poured out two liquids from a single spout by concealed 
stops on a hollow handle, contrived by air pressure to hold back the 
unwanted one, kept separate within. The form of any object, from 
a lacquer bird cage to a brass foot warmer, was never repeated. Each 
time the problem was genially conceived, and carried out individually. 

Shopping therefore actually became a stimulating exercise in the 
abstract possibilities of shape and volume, of geometry. One always 
came back from such an expedition enlightened about a still further 
way of subdividing a circle, for instance, or of designing a lobed edg- 
ing- perhaps for a table, or a tray completely charming and logical, 
yet one that somehow had never come to mind before. Also, of course, 
it might never later be seen elsewhere. 

So great was the choice offered, that until one was sure one wanted 
an object it was best not to run the risk of buying upon first inspection; 
something better might so easily appear later. I learned, nevertheless, 
that if one were sure, purchase should be unfailingly prompt. How 
many prudent economies does one regret in this life; and how easily 
do we apply effective consolation for our minor extravagances! 

My house, then, little by little became furnished, not too richly yet 
no longer sparely; and each new purchase, like musical glasses, would 
set vibrating again all my pleasure in former ones, from which it 
drew fresh harmonies. I extended my schemes, too. At the time there 
were no limits in view. I suspected that the gods might grudge the 
profundity of my content; that leaner years might of necessity follow 
those that were fat. Even a little happiness seems more than life can 
long offer, and of this I was aware. Yet I went along without too much 



A Scholar's Household 27 

reflection since I had about me so much beauty constantly giving me 
new enjoyment, and I continued perfecting my installation, learning 
daily of further objects, large or small, unknown and charming. 
Always I tried to acquire one excellent example. The process was 
effortless, specimens would appear as of themselves, and the whole 
became an absorbing game. In the Wax Storehouse, we were ever 
prouder of the visible result. Even my eunuch landlord and neighbor, 
on his rare visits, was properly impressed. 

Alas, we built even then upon a shifting foundation. Seven years 
later the inevitable day came when all was to be put into packing 
cases. By then I was considered lucky to be able to take any possessions 
away with me. Like all the other foreigners, in time I became myself 
a visitor whose days were over, drawn again to join his fellows beyond 
the sea. The "guest man" a polite way of referring to foreigners much 
used in Chinese phrases of courtesy found that from die first he 
had been destined finally to go back to his own "external country " 
Yet I must not get ahead of my story. 



CHAPTER 



in Wisdom from the Elder Born 



THE first steps were now taken and I was becoming increasingly 
vocal. China had proved to be in no sense a baffling land of mys- 
tery. The day began as in any other land, with its small tasks and 
cheerful routine. Once I had my own house, I could plan its hours 
and discuss domestic pMuns as I ate my breakfast. The simple pleasures 
merely of walking abroad in the open street, of exploring various 
quarters of the city, of asking questions, talking and being talked to 
in easy conversation: all these were also mine. 

Yet from the beginning I set myself fixed hours, and laid out the 
ground to be covered. My pursuit was not to be methodless; nor were 
leisure and freedom from the need to earn my daily bread if I could 
contrive to live with utmost simplicityto become pretexts for idle- 
ness. Although my plans took on their developed and complete form 
only after I had become well established in my own independent house- 
hold, I should like here to describe a little the daily routine of my 
tranquil, long, and leisurely lessons, during which I gathered impres- 
sions of the character of successive teachers in such detail that they 
remain with me as if received in childhood. 

How much do I owe to the chief of them, Mr. Wang, of insights 
into Chinese nature! He had contrived to make his humdrum life, 
composed of a daily routine of monotonous teaching and domestic 
privation, symmetrical and reasonable indeed. His face was gentle, 
yet it was that of a man privately more wearied than pleased by most 

38 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 29 

of the relations he was under the necessity of making. His eyes were 
kind; and his glance could at times glow when some new thought 
would catch and hold him. His side-face made you like him. He would 
so much more have preferred, I am sure, merely to have stayed home 
than daily to face his current assortment of bounding new missionaries, 
or else crabbed old ones, in the Language School. Yet he probably 
had never felt that such a choice could be his. 

He wore a soft brown fedora as a concession to modernity, yet not 
so much to prove that he was advanced as to avoid being considered 
too definitely conservative. He even owned a pair of longish, light 
yellow, Western shoes that would appear underneath his dark blue 
or purplish robes when the lanes were specially damp underfoot. These 
leather shoes were equally a compromise with the modern world. His 
Chinese clothes he wore with an unself-conscious air of good breeding. 
Somehow the very sound of them as he crossed a high threshold, or 
the way in which he quietly spread his skirts with his fine hands as 
he took a chair, betokened a man of culture. He was no hack, although 
his colleagues were hacks; he remained closed and therefore secure, 
if only because he knew so well by indirection how to turn aside ef- 
fectively any indiscreet remark or lolloping conduct on the part of 
some new and immature pupil. 

He soon discovered that I sensed all this clearly; and that I also 
(with no career to make in China) was repelled as he was by the 
unseemliness with which new arrivals in the school brashly announced 
that they had come to hawk a salvation they forthwith declared su- 
perior to anything evolved long before by his own Confucius. If they 
were "diplomatic" or more rarely B. A. T. British American Tobacco 
arch-familiar in China, we both knew that the grand debate on 
morals would affect them not at all. When Mr. Wang became as- 
sured that we thus had the same sense of decorum, barriers fell. Yet I 
remained more unwilling than ever now to press in upon his care- 
fully guarded privacies; and upon this base we built a tranquil re- 
lationpartial it is true, but one that lasted us peaceably through 
many years. He became my formal teacher. 

Winter or summer, tea was served endlessly. When I had acquired 
an establishment of my own I never ceased to marvel at the patience of 



30 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

my servants, to whom this constant coming and going never caused a 
flurry. For a civilized Chinese becomes almost helpless unless you 
place beside him a steaming pot, even if it is filled only with scalding 
water; and everyone soon senses the importance of keeping it con- 
tinuously filled. Tea is brought to you invariably as you enter any 
proper shop. Business, any business, is impossible without it. At every 
hour of the day, oceans of it must be wasted in every province of 
China; yet it is imperative that hot water always be kept ready to 
brew it promptly. As it is said that the water buffalo will perish if 
he is not allowed to immerse himself daily; so too the Chinese find 
their tea indispensable. 

With tea, then, and with our changing books, we installed ourselves 
beside the stove in winter, and later when I had finally acquired my 
own courts, fanned ourselves in a shady corner of my innermost one 
in summer. My "Elder Born" or Hsien SAengthis is the teacher's tide 
of courtesy, since his more mature spirit has preceded yours to birth 
and I would converse endlessly, finally about everything in the world! 

It was always a dignified proceeding. Our bows of greeting were 
never too stiffly formal; this would have denoted inferior manners. 
Yet they were never omitted. The Hsien Sh&ng was daily announced; 
and a few seconds later he would cross some inner threshold, always 
neatly dressed in a dignified long gown of stuff appropriate to the 
season. One could hear its sound before he himself appeared. Three 
hours later he departed. Never did those hours hang heavy on my 
hands; and discoveries never ceased from the first day to the last. Even 
when anticipating other and exciting pleasures, I still looked forward 
to my regular lessons. 

Although their attitude was invariably correct, I seem to remember 
that one teacher or another, after months of slowly maturing confidence, 
would occasionally make some slight expression of weariness at his 
destiny. One surely could not condemn this; his was often a dull task, 
and surely ill-paid. Dignity, however, was always fully maintained. 
A teacher remained one's teacher, one's Elder Born, for the whole of 
life. It was not a light relationship. He was to be given respect, venera- 
tion even; and the bond is one that Chinese recognize with a real 
sense of obligation. Westerners who regard it slightingly cause a deep 



Wisdom from the "Elder Born 31 

wound. His standing, unflaggingly maintained, consoled many a poor 
drudge for the eternal monotony of his labors. 

Even a teacher's salary was never called merely salary, but "dried 
meat money" instead, since this was a historic perquisite of tutors. 
According to tradition, the actual service was not indeed one that 
could be bought or sold. In our time, the pay was merely in unimagina- 
tive paper money; yet one always had to put it carefully into an en- 
velope so that it would not show, and then at the correct moment 
politely present this with both hands one would be so lax as to con- 
stitute rudeness to the Elder Born. 

Later, as soon as I had enough both of the spoken and the written 
language to follow lectures, even though at first sketchily, I sought 
for and was given the privilege of attending Peking University, Pei- 
ching Ta-hsiieh, as an auditor. Even at this late date I must have been 
somewhat of an oddity in this place; although later an American 
woman and a lone and eccentric Britisher, on a fellowship from Cam- 
bridge, also joined some of the classes. 

Chinese auditors were not rare. One of my professors told me that 
they were often his best students. In general these were boys too poor 
to pay even for enrollment; they thus gave up all hope of a degree^ 
living miserably in nearby inns. They held great disputations among 
themselves, and were in appearance and by temperament so many 
Chinese Francois Villons, leading disorderly lives yet aglow with 
the pure ardor of learning. 

At the university, which was in my own quarter of Peking, no one 
seemed to think in any way strange the Chinese clothes that I had 
found it pleasant and sensible to wear. Even in midwinter the class- 
rooms were unheated, and a fur-lined gown was there doubly ap- 
preciated. Nor did my presence ever give rise to any self-consciousness 
although there was plenty of interest. I began gradually to achieve 
the solid satisfaction of understanding a demonstration on the black- 
board, even when the Chinese characters for it were chalked hastily, 
which of course made it doubly difficult to follow. 

Each month there was less of the unknown to puzzle me; and more 
of China as seen by and for herself. It was contemporary China, of 
course, yet so far was this life removed from that of Legation Street 



32 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

and the quarters inhabited by Westerners generally that it dispelled 
them to complete unreality. Here I was not "The Oyster/' as I later 
learned that .1 had been nicknamed among the foreigners. Here was 
openhearted and earnest endeavor and intellectual concentration. 
There was deep interest in such matters as, for example, the first at- 
tempt by a brilliant young professor to interpret certain phases of 
China's long history economically by a method "Western" to him, 
yet still Eastern enough to me. 

Or I could listen to wonderful criticism of T'ang poetry, or of the 
earlier classical Odes, by a scholar who must have known by heart 
thousands of lines of the most beautiful verses in the language. This 
teacher would draw on the blackboard the arrangements of palaces 
vanished a millennium ago, so that in the mind's eye one could see 
again why a long-dead poet had once mentioned green willows, let 
us say, as on a hill behind the glittering roof of a certain great hall. 
Why were these colors or effects selected rather than others? Or why 
perhaps about 800 B.C. was the stitching on the fur robes of young 
men of fashion, mentioned in a ballad, made thus and not so? 

One old professor, whose manner was so mild that I never could 
determine the precise moment at which he would stop casual con- 
versation with some student on the front bench to broaden his re- 
marks a little and actually begin lecturing, took us tranquilly through 
the heroic plays of the Yuan dynasty. His gende digressions from the 
China of our thirteenth century were long and meandering, yet they 
never ended without a neat point. About me were young faces aware 
that the literary splendors of their country were passing in review. It 
was a high and pure world to have entered; the other one, down in 
the diplomatic quarter, was by now well lost. Then daily, charged with 
new enthusiasm, I returned home to my nearby courtyard for a light 
lunch, frugal but most neatly served; after it a nap, when possible, on 
my south-facing, felt-covered, brick l(ang\ and soon the Hsien ShSng 
would be announced and our afternoon-long conversation would 
begin again. 

Gradually in those days of intellectual excitement, which paradoxi- 
cally were made up of long hours of quiet study, a wholly new region 
of the mind, unsurmised before, was progressively discovered and ex- 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 33 

plored. These were a scholar's joys, the rewards o his discipline; and 
my efforts could not have been better expended than in the very fields 
that praised him long and earnestly: Chinese history and Chinese lit- 
erature. 

First of all, though, had to come the language itself, its structure and 
form, its tones and characters. And a broad zone strewn with stumbling 
blocks lies before the beginner in spoken Chinese. There are the four 
melodic tones of voice with which all sonorous Pekingese is inflected; 
as well as whole collections of words each with completely different 
meaning and yet precisely the same sound. To make matters more 
complicated, these words included many necessary to express the com- 
monest ideas. How was one to make proper distinctions, since they 
had all been fixed in the language for centuries, and now could not 
possibly be changed? 

Let me first present the reader with a short description of -the tones, 
the preliminary major difficulty. Every syllable can be pronounced in 
Mandarin, which is the official language, in four distinct ways. At 
the beginning, these sounded so alike that the first step actually was 
to hear the quick, slight, differences with one's own ear. Other dia- 
lects, spoken across the land by millions, but never used at court or for 
official business, included as many as eight or more tones. The clear 
and charming spoken Chinese of Peking, fortunately, had but four. 
Yet even for these practice was something like learning to play upon 
a harpsichord, with several banks of keys and also a pedal or two to 
work at the same time. 

One could take a syllable, for instance, and pronounce it sharply, 
at a somewhat higher pitch than is usual for a Westerner, then stop 
it abruptly. Or in uttering . this same sound, one could raise one's 
voice, as if to ask a question. Further one could also curl it, first down 
and then roundly up. Finally, one could begin high to end low; but if 
the sound had once come down, it must never be allowed to rise again. 
To make quite sure of this, which was difficult, one of my early 
teachers advised me to observe camels' pads; and since in Peking 
these are the beasts of burden commonly used to deliver coals to 
householders, I amusedly set myself to dog them, watching their 



34 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

curious tread, trying to catch from it the difficult knack of going down, 
and then staying down. 

The first of the tones made one feel disagreeably emasculated; its 
pitch was too high. To my own ears, even today, it is too shriE to be 
altogether pleasant. The last was correct, we have seen, only if it 
descended sharply to remain low, which sheer eagerness often pre- 
vented. For the endless drill i my new Chinese were not to become 
tonelessa common and horrid malady the Language School had 
contrived a series of cells on an upper floor, where victims of a singular 
form of torture met each with a teacher, to school themselves in this 
one phase of the grand attack, by stern endeavor and maddening 
repetition. 

Even ten minutes or so was exhausting; but then a bell would ring 
and one changed teachers. This was repeated several times, to permit 
one to acustom oneself to different voices pronouncing the same so 
short yet so difficult syllables. Although overtly a simple enough rou- 
tine, it was, I really believe, one of the most grueling intellectual tasks 
I ever undertook. 

After a number of shifts, we Westerners were allowed to escape, to 
play volleyball out-of-doors, for a recess. The Chinese teachers must 
have regarded our all too obvious relief as confirming their worst sus- 
picions about the ever-present light-mindedness of foreigners. Yet even 
in shorts, shouting in the excitement of a lively game, glad above all 
to be away from those little rooms, somewhere within my aching 
cranium still would be blaring some such desperately short sound as 
"Tzii," (first tone), "Tzii?" (second tone), "T-s-fi" (third tone), and 
Tzul" (fourth tone) weaving erratically up and down, trying to 
progress safely, perhaps half the time wrong. 

Even after a number of years, in moments of emotion or haste, 
tones might still fly off incorrectly, uttered by some little slip to mean 
something ludicrously different from what one had intended. Then 
one felt perhaps as a bird might feel if, miscalculating simple flight 
from one branch to another, it unexpectedly found itself in mid-air, 
having missed its perch, unable to alight correctly anywhere. 

The rewards of industry were nevertheless satisfying. Ricksha 
boys and servants could be addressed intelligibly; and it was encourag- 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 35 

ing to watch them brighten when they understood simple questions. 
The toneless speech o the inept foreigner left him permanently out- 
side gates that these goodhearted Chinese made haste to open, if only 
the knocking were comprehensible. Pride at such minor successes made 
further plodding much more supportable. 

Merely as human speech, when properly spoken, Pekingese is a 
melodious and delicate tongue. It is capable of the subtlest shadings 
of civilized thought. All Chinese knew this. I still hear it with the 
pleasure one might have in hearing a clear and vibrant language spoken 
in some land of Chinese immortals. It is piquant in metaphor, rich in 
revealing cross-sections, cut always in another direction from ours, 
through material nevertheless common to mankind. Its formulae are 
delicately considerate, truly polite; and it never resembles the singsong 
guttural intonation, or the flowery abracadabra represented as its fac- 
simile by the ignorant. It furnishes the stimulation, the excitement, of 
a completely different system of speech. 

The homonyms, or characters of identical sound but different mean- 
ing, brought still other problems. Reformers always begin by demand- 
ing why one cannot simply "write" Chinese with the alphabet, and 
thus abolish a good part of the difficulty of the language. This one can 
indeed do; and with fair ease if one will make a code of equivalents 
and then abide by it. But it gets one nowhere. Every Chinese char- 
acter is a separate picture, a symbol, or a unique derivative or combina- 
tion of several, and that character does to the eye always convey an 
individual meaning. Yet the Chinese have so few distinct sounds for 
all these many flourishing characters that in reading the literary lan- 
guage not even a Chinese scholar can follow another by* ear alone: 
he must actually see what is being pronounced! 

Were this to be everywhere necessary, the nuisance of it would be- 
come intolerable. On a lower level, using plain speech for everyday 
existence, the common people long ago found a way out The mono- 
syllable chi, for example, in my pocket dictionary represents no less 
than one hundred and sixty-four different characters. The meaning of 
any one of them by itself fits this one sound, in one or another o its 
four possible tones. Yet a single one only means, let us say, chicken. 



36 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

To utter the word "chicken," however, so that out of the whole col- 
lection it alone may be understood in the marketplace, one amplifies it 
a little, and says instead "small-chicken-child," hsiao-chi-tzu. This is 
universally understood, exactly like a word of three syllables, since the 
sounds are run together, and means quite simply the ordinary chicken. 

By obvious Eastern logic, the word egg becomes "chicken-child-son," 
also a combination of three syllables. Thus single sounds are strung 
together to make longer words sounding quite like our own, "white 
words" as the Chinese call them, or plain speech. To reproduce these 
accurately in transcribing spoken sentences, the single characters must 
still all be written out, in groups of twos or threes, as above. Yet in 
literary work this is quite unnecessary, since the single root character 
never presents any ambiguity. Indeed, precisely because of this the 
documentary language is a marvel of concision. 

The system is far from perfect, but the Chinese neither can nor will 
alter some thirty centuries of linguistic development in an attempt to 
meet the criticism to them both irrelevant and impractical of unin- 
structed foreigners. Difficulties crop up, of course, even among them- 
selves. One often sees men, especially if from different provinces, in 
conversation scribbling an imaginary character upon the palms of their 
own hands, to make sure that a companion understands beyond any 
doubt just which one they had meant to convey. It is rapidly traced with 
the forefinger, in imaginary ink, as its sound is repeated. The person 
addressed looks, usually gives a quick assent of comprehension, and 
on goes the talk. Sight, again, resolves all doubts. 

Tones help greatly, of course, to break up these long parades of 
like-soundi|ig syllables; and to a Chinese ear they arc completely dif- 
ferent sounds. The two provinces of Shansi and Shensi neighboring, 
as if to make it harder are intentionally spelled by us differently, to 
make certain some distinction between them. This was found neces- 
sary in our system merely for postal identification. They actually have 
the same sound; although to the Chinese ear the difference is unmis- 
takable because the tone of the first syllable in Shansi is high, while 
in the word Shensi the same sound is curled down and up again. 
Such are a few of the difficulties of tones and identical syllables, vital 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 37 

meaning forever hinging upon almost imperceptible trifles. Truly pa- 
tience was necessary. 

One thing that granted it to me was the wonder of the written lan- 
guage. This springs from premises so completely different from our 
own, and over long centuries has evolved into such a marvelous in- 
strument the very existence of which is unsuspected by Westerners 
generally that I should here like to enter into at least a cursory ex- 
planation of certain elements in its structure. There is no better clue 
to the workings of the Chinese mind. 

In all our familiar world, in Greece and Rome, through all Europe, 
the alphabetic script, if not the only known, certainly has been con- 
sidered the most sensible and practical system for writing. Children 
learn to write by linking sounds together, and then by analogy: "B-A-T 
is bat." To the Chinese, however, a number of the commonest words 
in the language are actually simple pictures, in the course of time 
radically condensed, reduced to the fewest essential strokes, yet pic- 
tures none the less. The horse, even today, still keeps his four legs 
and tail; the cow has lost one horn, but retains the other. Birds ob- 
jects of passionate interest to all Chinese are divided into two cate- 
gories those with short tails, like the sparrow, and those with long. 
All birds, however rare their variety, then invariably have one of 
these two symbols as a component part of the character used for their 
names. 

A Chinese child, in learning to write, is thus presented as part of his 
heritage with what is tantamount to a gigantic, celestial box of toys. 
Stowed away in its ample partitions are images of all visible things, 
and symbols further for those invisible. To write he must learn to 
select and combine from them. This is a grave, an almost philosophi- 
cal process. Small wonder then that when later he comes to study such 
a language as English, he does not too much prize a system that how- 
ever effective it may be as a rapid code, leaves out for him great and 
traditional symbols representing the wonder of the world. 

In learning to write Chinese, it is as if the student himself were in- 
vited to participate in a grand review of all things tangible and intan- 
gible. Certain characters further make it possible for him actually to 
relive, in moments of surmise, fragments of the ancient history of a 



38 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

vanished race, as he divines how their formation proceeded from 
archaic thinking. Those to whom this is uncongenial, and therefore 
"impractical," never seem to sense the pleasures, and groan at the 
labor involved. 

The Chinese character for the sun, for example, JU , was in its most 
ancient form precisely what any child would draw: a round disk,O> 
either filled in, or perhaps marked with the sign "one," , since this is 
the first of the planets. With a need for more rapid writing, and the 
corresponding invention of the quick-moving flexible hair brush, which 
replaced the older hollow and wick-filled reed, radical abbreviations 
were introduced; and in time the circle came to be drawn as a rec- 
tangle, since the supple brush could be flicked down corners in less 
time than it took to draw the round figure carefully. Similarly, the 
oldest form of the character for the moon is simply the crescent that 
any child would draw. In time it was changed to ^ , simplified, given 
angles, to make it more like the others. Yet even today it still retains 
one horn of its crescent. 

What, though, it will surely be asked, did the Chinese do when they 
wished to invent characters for abstract terms, for things invisible 
and therefore not to be put into writing by the mere process of forming 
abbreviated pictures? The answer is often simple. When, for example, 
a character for the word "brilliance" was needed, the sages apparently 
proceeded as follows. They thought carefully of exactly what, in this 
world, was brilliant. Surely the sun was, and surely the moon also. 
Why not, then, put the two together side by side; and henceforth give 
to that combination and to no other, everywhere and always, this 
single meaning? Such is apparently what was done: today we read 
the character g9 , and it signifies this one quality. 

Yet one must not oversimplify. The result was not always so readily 
obtained nor is our modern reading of it so sure. The Chinese charac- 
ter for thoughts is a combination of a field, 0J, with a heart, ^:JS-f or 
that is where thoughts come from, or perhaps in an agricultural 
society where they go. There are thousands of characters formed 
similarly, by deeply revealing combinations. It is also typical of the 
system that several interpretations are possible; the inventors, dust for 
so many centuries, kept no record of the reasons for their decisions. 



Wisdom from the 'Elder Born 39. 

Another device, which spawned numberless characters, including 
many for concrete objects, was the rebus. "Eye sea U"; we have all 
as children played such games, using pictures instead of spelling, 
v^ j. \J. The poverty of Chinese sounds made this an especially 
tempting way to distinguish homonyms in writing. For instance, plum 
tree, a single syllable in Chinese, has exactly the same sound, although 
in another tone, as the Chinese word meaning every. How could one 
write it? On the left of the character one put the sign for a tree, since 
the plum is a growing thing; with a trunk, J , coming out of the 
ground, , and a taproot and other lesser roots below ground level, 
thus:7JC. One then placed next to this the symbol already evolved for 
the word "every": @. As a result there was formed the compound 
character meaning plum tree alone :$i. 

If the system is congenial to the student, study becomes a continuing 
invitation to explore reaches of the Chinese mind accessible in no 
other way. It subsists concise and unchanging, the transmission of a 
complete view of the world across great stretches of human time. So I 
sat, summer and winter, all my years in China, ever discovering 
further combinations and new characters, or understanding the sym- 
bolism of old ones better, handling them like jade pellets beautiful, 
dense, and of superlative hardness. 

The first time one met a new combination, it might be an enigma. 
Then* down some rivulet of thought would suddenly appear the 
ancients' idea of barbarians, whose campfires were watched by fierce 
dogs, so that the symbols for both fire and dog were joined to make the 
character; or perhaps their feeling about snow, "rain with a hand 
holding a broom." Well, one could sweep it away! Or there was the 
character for rain itself, shown descending thus, ^ , from enveloping 
clouds which were themselves under the vault of heaven, n, complete 
even to four drops that had always carefully to be painted in at the 
end, fg . Then all things in the world related with rain, such as the 
snow already mentioned, JJ, had the topmost part of their characters 
amplified by this so-called "rain radical," only now diminished, drawn, 
broad and flat, &* , a process not at all unlike the division of a heraldic 
shield into quarterings. 

The excitements of beginning to read were therefore of an order 



40 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

completely unknown in the West. In Peking I could bicycle down a 
crowded business street, and long before I was able to seize connected 
meanings, could catch on the large shop signs or hanging banners 
whole collections of "grass radicals," "metal radicals," "three drops of 
water" for liquids, or "two drops" only for ice; since the third one, my 
teacher explained, had frozen as it had dripped. 

There were "gates," with both leaves brushed in,f^, or "horses," j^, 
or "carts," the latter two-wheeled as in antiquity, and represented in 
plan, looked at from above, $; and many others. The ancient Chinese 
world, seen through Chinese eyes, was about me on every signboard, 
neatly classified into categories down to the cloth for its shoes or the 
metal for its canisters and trays. Even after years of familiarity, I do 
not believe that the original meanings of these components have ever 
wholly disappeared from consciousness. Gradually one absorbed the 
logic of the ancients into oneself. 

I also noticed that Chinese children, even when very young, learned 
their first lessons in much this same way* Paper slips, generally the 
size of playing cards, were cut; education was to begin. On each was 
traced a character, boldly and properly written and none was too 
poor for this. "What is this?" "And now this?" The answers gen- 
erally came prompt and shrill; with proud, if Lilliputian, literary 
pleasure, at perhaps the age of three. Nor was the help of grandparents 
unwelcome. On the contrary, I have seen many of them participating 
actively, and with obvious pleasure, at the very beginnings of the 
process. It was a serious business. The script itself was to be revered; 
so much so that in days only recently past, no paper with any writing 
on it could later be used for utilitarian purposes. Even as trash, it 
still had to be collected and burnt properly and separately. 

Foreign students also used the above method for learning their 
first few thousand Chinese characters; although usually with thicker 
cards, on the reverse of which were translations into their own lan- 
guage, as well as the transcribed sounds and the all-important tones. 
It was indeed possible for the Westerner to invent varieties of solitaire, 
or busy himself with a grand review while being pulled through the 
streets in a ricksha a practice not uncommon among the serious or 
to devise private ways of gaining a minute here and there, if only one 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 41 

kept a small deck in one's pocket. Thus the study of these Chinese 
puzzles became, typically enough, in itself a diverting new game. 

Writing was another. The characters should always be made with a 
brush, dipped into what is very properly called Chinese ink. Turning 
corners nicely is a trick, a flick of the wrist that must be learned. 
Horizontal lines, also, must always rise a little as they go from left 
to right, at the slight angle natural if one traces them with the right 
hand away from the body. They should further be drawn, the teachers 
say, as if they had been designed to "shed water." There are many 
similar principles, as well as devices for proper balance, all of which 
must gradually and carefully be learned. 

One of the most important was that in formal writing all characters 
should occupy the same area, and also be inscribable within an unseen 
rectangle. Thus a good calligrapher first planned upon a sheet of 
paper an invisible grillwork; if he were not quite so good a calligrapher 
as that, yet wished to make an inscription carefully, he might even 
lightly rule in the actual lines, which were later effaced. 

Characters vary widely, furthermore, in the number of their brush 
strokes. The number one, as we have seen, is merely a single stroke, 
. Two is HI; three H-~ Yet some patience-testing examples have 
complicated combinations running from twenty- to thirty-odd strokes 
apiece. In writing, when all are used together, a balance obviously has 
to be struck. This the good calligrapher never forgets. He is concerned 
to make his characters with few strokes bold and vigorous, and those 
which are complex, by contrast fine and delicate. The same radical 
may also appear fat or thin, and come high or low. It may be used 
alone, or as one of several components, according to the exigencies of 
its position. 

To plan all this well, to "organize" characters as the Chinese phrase 
it, thus becomes very early, yet remains through life, a conscious effort. 
Increasing mastery of calligraphic skill is, like any other, unending. 
Yet this finally makes every literate Chinese to some degree an artist, 
and certain ones masters commanding techniques that we sense only 
dimly in the West, even when we consider certain phases of abstract 
painting. 



42 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

To progress from this technique of writing, to paint with the same 
brush and ink the actual world about one its trees, its birds and its 
flowers, or the mist in the mountains entails for any educated man 
only a comparatively minor adaptation of abilities acquired in child- 
hood. Every literate Chinese is therefore a potential artist, in our own 
sense of the word. Yet it may surprise some Westerners to learn that 
painting is definitely ranked as second, in Chinese estimation, to cal- 
ligraphy, especially to calligraphy by the hand of a master. For the 
latter is abstract, and is therefore more evolved and difficult, a much 
more personal art. It can convey powerful moods and meanings, 
rhythms and balance, by most subtle means. 

To mount the heights of calligraphic skill is therefore to ascend 
very high mountains indeed. There comes a point beyond which 
Westerners can understand only imperfectly; where almost without 
exception they must stand outside the loftier gates, certainly so far as 
actual practice is concerned. Even after years of effort, their clumsily 
brushed-in characters seem to Chinese eyes the work of awkward 
children. When the traditional Chinese thinks about his own cul- 
ture, I believe that this is one of the chief causes of the disdain, for 
such it is, visited upon the unenlightened foreigner. 

Even the physical materials for this literary venture were altogether 
different from those that were basic in the West. Beyond the structure 
of the language, its tones and the characters, there were the actual 
objects for writing: brush and ink, the stones upon which to grind it, 
seals, vermilion seal pad (to make impressions), all the proper ap- 
purtenances of one's desk with further, of course, the countless va- 
rieties of Chinese books themselves. All these were for use as in another 
world. They were extremely pleasant objects to buy, and to learn 
about. One soon came to distinguish coarse from fine, the outstand- 
ing from the merely excellent. Among Chinese scholars I found that 
this was always a congenial subject for conversation. 

First of all, naturally, came the Chinese brush. I had to learn to 
paint my way into my new kingdom. One could of course trace char- 
acters with a fountain pen; at lectures the modern students did, proud 
of possessing such an object. Its clip projecting from the flap of their 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 43 

Chinese gowns was to them a badge of their own conception of mo- 
dernity. Yet certain teachers would not touch a pen; its hard point, 
they declared, ruined the natural sensitiveness of the wrist. 

Brushes came in so many varieties that my teachers would talk as 
if they were investing in skates or skis, questioning the shop assistant 
about how they would glide, if they turned corners easily, and so on. 
Customarily we also bought a peaked brass guard with which to cap 
each slender brush. A new brush had always to be broken in, carefully 
soaked in lukewarm water, only gradually put through its paces. These 
were only ordinary brushes. The giant brushes for inscriptions, or for 
large auspicious characters made to be displayed either singly or in 
pairs, were completely different both in material and shape. Their 
stubbier, thicker handles might even be of jade. There were many of 
these, here and there, on display in the Forbidden City, which in 
retrospect I perceive to have been a very literary palace. 

In various apartments there, or in the palaces of the princes, one 
often saw suspended, hanging outward from under the ceiling, pairs 
of red paper lozenges bearing gigantic characters for Happiness and 
Long Life. These necessarily had been traced standing, with sweep- 
ing motions of the arm, perhaps even by the Emperor himself, to be 
sealed officially with one of his great seals, and then carefully pre- 
served "ever after." No gift in China was more face-making than this. 

Good ink sticks, used by men proud of their calligraphy, commanded 
high prices. Certain varieties dried glossily, or else would grind better. 
Yet the stationers' shops, among the neatest in the whole city, had 
simple kinds also, each always in its own small box. In the palace, we 
could see whole collections of them on display in a number of halls, 
still in fine presentation cases of brocade. Their black surface was al- 
most always picked out in gilt, imaginatively molded in delicate relief; 
and the sticks themselves were formed into most novel shapes, minia- 
tures of every possible object under the Chinese sun. At one time or 
another these palace examples had probably all been very face-confer- 
ring presents; they were displayed with ivory4iandled brushes, along- 
side writing paraphernalia of jade. 

The ink stone was an even more complicated rnatter. Hard baked 
clay that sold for very little might serve for ordinary purposes. A 



44 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

really good one, however, could easily bring a stiff price. They, too, 
came in every regular and irregular shape conceivable, with unex- 
pected ingenuities of arrangement to provide both the necessary grind- 
ing surface and a depression to hold a small quantity of liquid ink 
already ground. One merely rubbed the dry stick upon the smooth 
wet stone, carefully adding drops of water until one had what one 
wanted. The final mixture must be smooth and opaque, yet not too 
thick. Even trained monkeys, one was told, had in the old days been 
taught to do this industriously for their masters. Yet it took a while 
to acquire the knack, and to distinguish stone from stone. There 
were coarse grains and fine, inscribed stones, stones that had belonged 
to famous personages; indeed, there was no end. It was only after I had 
lived in Peking for several years that at last I found one I definitely 
wanted for myself, quite small and carefully fitted into a plain hard- 
wood box of handsome burnished grain, of good quality yet one that 
I could afford. 

Of paper we bought only the simplest, although the lines and bor- 
ders, and in particular "invitation stationery," came in many varieties. 
The latter was to inform others that your rooms had been swept and 
wine cups washed, as went the standard phrase, and would they lend 
your humble servant the brilliance of their company for lunch or 
dinner? Such cards had shadowy figures generally representing some 
ancient bronze or elaborate curio so nicely printed in faint color under 
the wording that purchase was made doubly tempting. 

This small pleasure was as nothing, I came to learn, compared with 
that felt by a good calligrapher, when in the shops that kept such 
rarities he might finger a fine sheet of three-hundred-year-old paper, 
simply waiting for his skill to have characters of one style or another 
traced upon it. Such paper was not for the foreigner, although I did 
buy varieties richly speckled with gold leaf, in yellow or rose, when 
for instance I requested a teacher, to inscribe a pair of matched verses 
one for each side of the doorway in my study with these lines that 
I had stumbled upon. The mood was of dying autumn: 

[Within] The lamp shines gently in the quiet mountain room. 
[Without] Rain falls steadily on the cold chrysanthemum flowers. 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 45 

I also bought the best paper I could afford when I asked to have a 
fan painted by a friend, one of the last of the Manchu princes, whose 
calligraphy was noted. This was customary; and if the paper was good 
enough, one could give pleasure as well as receive it. 

All the foregoing, though, yielded to the ramification of knowledge 
about seals. Here was a major literary continent, by me newly dis- 
covered. No stone, no hard metal known to man, crystal, porcelain, 
or wood, was left unutilized. Shapes were unimaginable in variety. 
Seals came in sets, or in pairs, or else they were made hollow, 
box within box like a miniature nest of children's building blocks, 
each side incised with an inscription. There were also many kinds of 
characters to be used, from "seal" proper, the most archaic and formal, 
through scripts special to bygone dynasties, finally even to cursive 
"grass" writing. There were small symbols, or sets of curious and 
purposely cryptic mottoes, to be stamped upon the margins of letters 
as fancy dictated. There were yang or male seals, with the characters 
in red and the background blank; and also yin or female, where this 
arrangement was reversed. 

One had to learn what to seal, where to seal, how to press the seal 
evenly; and above all what seals to use. One had an official seal, utility 
seals, certainly one for each of one's literary names, and perhaps several 
further, engraved with devices corresponding to facets of one's char- 
acter. Men of letters or artists progressed from one to another as their 
styles developed; and such details were matters of common knowl- 
edge to the scholar. One had seals to be used only in certain rooms, in 
the Study of Breadth Conferred, or the Studio of the Solitary Moon. 
Connoisseurs, especially imperial ones, conferred prestige by leaving 
the imprint of some seal on every fine picture they had inspected. Com- 
binations of characters that were obscure had to be interpreted. Al- 
though this was interesting, it consumed much time. One early learned 
the appearance of familiar seals belonging to celebrated men; above 
all in and about Peking those of the eighteenth-century Emperor 
Ch'ien Lung, who sealed his way imperially and relentlessly through 
a reign of sixty years. There was simply no end. 
Then there was the vermilion ink pad, as it was called, which also 



46 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

came in many qualities, and the purchase o which was never to be 
undertaken lightly. Also, though seals could he carved for money, such 
work was always deprecated by the sensitive man as mechanical and 
inferior. Fine seal-cutting was by tradition a gentleman's pastime; and 
seals were the scholar's gift. In Hangchow, in the South, there even 
existed a society founded for their study alone, to preserve their lore. 

My own first seal was a modest one of "chicken's blood stone," so- 
called because of the deep pink-red veining marking its gray ground. 
It was carved commercially. I stamped it upon hundreds of sheets of 
letter paper, upon books, even to receipt bills, or to make official any 
document. I learned to ink it properly, to keep it clean, and when 
applying it to give the necessary small extra pressure to each of its 
four corners in turn, never using it upon too hard a surface. I learned 
how the characters on seals were composed in various groups, how 
certain formulae were to be chosen for this or that purpose. In Chinese 
eyes my higher education had begun. 

There were other objects besides seals always to be found on a 
scholar's writing table. The little vessel that held the water for grind- 
ing ink, with the delicate curving spoon used to ladle it on to the ink 
stone, was of importance. One could buy it perhaps in Sung porcelain, 
or one might have a bronze one. Jade, too, was not infrequently used. 
Apparently anything was possible, except the chance of ever finding 
a duplicate. This would have been insufferable in Chinese eyes; and 
of course machines were undiscovered when the best of these little 
vessels had been made. A Chinese, morever, takes special pleasure in 
using his imagination afresh for such purposes, and fancy's only law, 
we know, is her inconstancy. 

Other larger and shallower vessels were to be kept filled with 
water, to be used for washing brushes. There were also wrist-rests, of 
bamboo, ivory, porcelain, or other materials, as personal for comfort 
as pillows. Indeed small hard pillows they were, to raise and steady 
the hand for fine work. There were metal rulers; there were paper- 
weights, in pairs, also of metal, some heavy enough to keep a large 
sheet taut when spread upon the writing table. 

There were capacious brush-holders, the finest of which, I thought, 
were cylindrical and quite uncarved, of the heaviest and handsomest 



Wisdom from the Elder Born 47 

woods obtainable. There were also stands upon which to place ink 
sticks still moist from use, so that they could dry properly. Ingenuity, 
in fashioning all these, apparently determined never to make any end; 
at least I never found one. This seems an intrinsic property of all 
such Chinese objects; the native inventiveness on this scale and for 
these purposes, does indeed seem never to exhaust itself. 

A similar variety also applied, I found, to books. My first purchases 
were humble little affairs, bought for minuscule amounts, perhaps 
reproducing some famous anthology of T'ang poetry with artless cuts 
to illustrate each poem, line-drawing showing palaces and temples, 
bridges and causeways, or chambers of audience with imaginative fur- 
nishings. The classics were more sober, printed traditionally with 
heavy and broad, very old-fashioned characters; yet they existed in 
editions so cheap that almost every school child in the old order of 
things once possessed his own Confucian Analects or the revered Boo\ 
of the Golden Mean. 

"Learn it by heart, now, 5 ' they were told, "and if it is properly en- 
graved upon your memory, you will always be able to understand its 
true meaning more fully, as you go through life!" 

Chinese books are in general made of quite fragile paper, with the 
leaves doubled so that the folded edge is turned outward; and the 
paper is of course printed on only one side. The binding of each 
fascicule, often colored, is also not very durable. Numbers of such com- 
paratively thin volumes, however, are finally housed within a well- 
made cloth case called a t'ao, which is the true outer cover; and for 
this one may use even the finest brocade or silk tapestry. Little clasps 
of jade or ivory, or else more humbly of carved bone, keep it secured, 
and these are often carved to harmonize with the binding. 

After a while, when I had begun to acquire a sense of these things, 
it was a pleasure to go to a good bookseller's and to inspect his lofty 
shelve?. In their various too the books were usually arranged not up- 
right but flat, with what would be for us their tops turned outward. 
Telltale pendant paper streamers also marked their tides; and the 
resulting effect was somehow quite like that of a medieval sorcerer- 
apothecary's shop. This or that too, more interesting than the general- 



4 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

ity from some lure of tide or elegance of casing, always seemed from 
its shelf to beckon: "Take me!" 

If one did, though, caveat emptor. Traditionally there were never 
distinct editions of books in China as with us in the present-day West, 
never any regulation to prevent an imitator from cutting for himself 
a new set of wooden blocks, one for a page, modeled upon the old 
text, and thus reproducing any book that he could acquire. The com- 
parison of editions consequently became for the scholar almost a sport- 
ing event. One might come a cropper in the very last volume of some 
prize, to find a few pages missing; so one always was told carefully 
to count them all. This my servants would help me do. Yet if a page 
or two were imperfect or lacking, when the book had been purchased 
in a good shop the loss was always most obligingly made good. The 
bookseller's copyist set cheerfully to work, matching paper, mending 
torn pages, comparing texts (like as not with a copy borrowed down 
the lane, from another shop in the same quarter), and then carefully 
imitated the missing portions by hand. I have seen this done with 
such painstaking skill that for a moment the eye was deceived. 

When all is said and done, however, what did I read in this won- 
derful tongue? What secrets did I uncover; what of value did I ac- 
quire? Here I must confess to a real disappointment. Of course there 
were the poems. Short verses, occasionally of only four or eight lines 
apiece, could induce a haunting mood literally often with the thrust 
of a few powerful syllables which often we cannot establish in much 
longer works. Chinese style then became, as somewhere I have seen it 
described by Somerset Maugham, "glitteringly compact." Yet the 
going was definitely harder; even with plenty of time, the final yield 
was somewhat less than I had anticipated. 

Years later I was cheered to hear perhaps the most eminent Chinese 
scholar of our time remark that he believed his own countrymen, even 
when well educated, did not really understand more than a certain 
proportion of any classical text they read. Difficulties are ubiquitous; 
ambiguities abound; ten problems grow out of one! The language has 
grown so tangled and involved with age, its myriad allusions raise 
such complicated questions concerning the long chronicle of the *past, 



Wisdom from the 'Elder Born 49 

and require so much learned interpretation dealing as they often do 
with archaic ideas or objects now long gone from this earth that the 
ordinary Chinese simply resigns himself to a continuous tendency 
toward the obscure, and behaves a little like a myopic man who might 
prefer not to wear glasses at the opera. At least imagination yields 
him a satisfactory return; and by comparison the reality might be 
somewhat disillusioning. 

This will never do for a Westerner. He must apply his lenses or 
his calipers; he is not cheerful in ignorance; and he usually is deter- 
mined to prod until he has received valid enlightenment. There has 
thus grown up a new and extremely complicated science, that of 
modern Sinology. It is a fruit of Western learning grafted onto a stem 
that continues to remain rather alien to it. As a discipline it also tends 
to make men learned rather than wise. 

The Chinese of the old school, by contrast, felt that at any moment 
they understood as much as they were meant to; and they tranquilly 
studied on, always learning more. They had prodigious memories, 
and they also made for completely different ends. It was the refining 
influence of literature that remained their goal through life; details 
were details. Never, truly, shall these two meet. 

I have only this to say: those few oldest scholars, of the highest 
learning, of whom I had occasional glimpses in Peking during their 
sunset years, were so transmuted, had been made so humane and so 
gentle by their long studies, that a complete justification of their own 
system spoke majestically from their faces. The visiting Westerner, 
however well informed, never fared well by comparison. For their own 
purposes the Chinese methods were supreme; and in communicating 
a tradition of enlightened living from generation to generation, their 
literature never failed them. This was the grand style; and it was to 
conserve this treasure that the art of Chinese writing had first been 
developed some three millennia back in the mists of the past. Much 
had meanwhile come and gone; much had failed of transmission, at 
least with the meaning and clarity that once had made it vital to the 
early sages; yet the old texts, unaltered, remained. 



CHAPTER IV 



The Comforts of Life 



ONE after another, the years continued to go well; and I remained 
sanguine. My household was now established. In the best o 
cheer, I settled in gratefully to enjoy its deft and willing service. Let 
me describe how such a small domain as mine was administered, who 
ran my pocket-handkerchief kingdom for me, and ran it with charm 
and wisdom. First, however, one must explain what servants are, and 
how they function in the Orient generally. 

In our twentieth-century West, the new variety of democratic self- 
service, created by applied science, has temporarily blinded us to the 
naturalness of older arrangements. For until our own time, only 
yesterday, servants were a normal part of the order of the world. 
Indeed until machinery transformed the application of physical force, 
all domestic tasks had to be performed manually. And there was never 
a scarcity of willing hands eager to be allowed to do just such 
simple work especially in poor or crowded lands where mouths 
were many. 

Before locks and latchkeys were stamped out by thousands, to 
take one example, there had to be at all the doors of antiquity a "talk- 
ing lock," in other words a watchman. Who brought in a lamp, at 
night, before electricity was invented to transfer almost heatless light 
from great distances merely by pressing a switch? A servant Who 
arrived with water before as it still seems to Chinese eyes water in 
complicated piping began to arrive "of itself"? A servant. Even today 



The Comforts of Life 51 

there is no strangeness to a Chinese about any of this service. Seen 
from the eyes of ignorance, it is the imported machinery that is sur- 
prising. 

Further, among the masses of Asia it is taken for granted that there 
must naturally exist in this world ranges of uncounted wealth and 
bitter poverty, unfamiliar in their almost measureless contrasts within 
our own pattern. In China, formerly, the Emperor in theory possessed 
the whole world, or at least what was to Chinese eyes the central and 
significant portion of it. The poor, at the other end of the scale, in the 
East have always had less than is theirs in any Western land. There 
was no dishonor to this; in Chinese minds it was simple fact, not 
even material for wonder. 

To become a servant in China, to perform manual labor for another, 
is consequently merely to act in accordance with a common fate, which 
demands no special attitude. When Chinese take service with foreign- 
ers, though, it is in general because they are seeking actively to better 
their condition, even at the price of changing basic habits, although of 
this many Westerners are unaware. The power and prestige of the 
master, in the Chinese system, is also extremely important; it affects 
the servant at every hour of the day. Relationship to power, moreover, 
personal relationship, is for him instinctive. 

The much talked of "squeeze," also entails no moral shame. It is 
really only a well-understood commission for handling sums of money 
or amounts of property. In one form or another every purchase is sub- 
ject to its application; it can almost be said to be the invisible tip given 
to an agent in any economic transaction. A porter is an agent, for he 
carries articles; a doorkeeper is an agent, indeed a formidable one, for 
at his will he admits them behind gates. One lives thus surrounded. 
Eyes are sharp, brains are quick; and under the surface minuscule 
amounts of invisible credit are forever being ladled away, good-na- 
turedly, persistently, and with that hopeful cheer which even the 
slightest progress toward security seems perpetually to rouse in Chinese 
breasts. 

This may explain some of the aspects of Chinese service at times 
sharply, irritating to the unreflecting Westerner, who may use a similar 
technique himself, but in operations where the scale is larger. This, 



52 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

however, is a distinction that he generally fails to draw. It may further 
help to make clear why, if any mutual profit is involved, the Chinese 
so soon are to be found working together according to dynamic law. 
Yet if properly administered, the arrangement also works for the 
master as well as against him. 

"Become rich and powerful," the servant seems to say, "and if I 
have served you well, I too shall become more secure. Prosper exceed- 
ingly," he continues, "and with the years my own lesser fortune will 
have been made also," 

In the old days, the linkage to power began at the top with the 
Prime Minister, often described as "above a myriad men, below a 
single one." In actual practice it goes down to the very bottom of the 
scale, to the last tattered ricksha puller dragging irregularly after him 
a worn-out vehicle. With no public law, as we know it in the West, 
to enforce abstract and impartial justice, power and above all personal 
relationship to power, wherever and however they may be found, are 
the common preoccupation. 

Soon after my arrival in China, I realized one day that I was being 
flattered when I was told by a Language School ricksha puller: "After- 
ward, in the future, you will use neither self-propelling cart [a bicycle], 
nor foreign cart [a ricksha]." "At that time," he added, "you will sit 
a vapor-chariot [an automobile]!" The implication was that if my 
studies different from the missionaries led to this successful issue, 
everyone should be content; I, assuredly, because my "face" would 
thus have grown very big indeed, and those who served under me 
because, obviously, they too would be prospering. 

This is one reason why in pleasant quarters there is such willingness, 
so much alert politeness and so little apathy to ordinary Chinese service. 
Everyone is playing for some personal stake and even that moment 
may be perfecting his skill, which keeps him interested and makes 
matters generally enjoyable. It also lends an air of intrigue to the 
smallest negotiation. Deftness in both directions on the social scale 
up and down assures good winnings. 

Exactly how much squeeze occurred in my own household, I care- 
fully refrained from ever trying seriously to find out. That would 
have been impossible anyway; and on my humble scale it must often 



The Comforts of Life 53 

have consisted of almost infinitesimal concessions, often in kind, es- 
pecially when daily provisions were purchased. It must be understood 
that Chinese domestic servants buy their own food with their wages. 
This makes their already minuscule earnings so tiny, in terms of how 
to eke out an existence not only for themselves but for their families 
as well, that one can well understand why the early Jesuits did not 
consider, under such circumstances, that normal squeeze could be 
construed as sin. Without it, indeed, the established order could never 
have been maintained. 

Chinese servants are also aware in great detail of exactly how much 
money their masters are using to live on; and mine must have been so 
even more than most, since economies had to be rigorous and unfail- 
ing if my way of life free of all impediment, so that I could remain 
on in Peking year after year, to study was to be maintained. I early 
made this clear to them in their own language here I had a definite 
advantage over the average foreigner and from time to time I con- 
ferred on how certain details of my establishment were to develop. 

Yet, since I was running a Chinese and not a foreign variety of 
household, I took special care to compensate for this strictness, and 
for our regular financial accountings (kept in Chinese, in a little book 
brought in from the kitchen) by always presenting to them their win- 
ter and summer clothes, of good stuff, on the major feast days. Such 
was the old custom, which almost no Westerner observed; and they 
appreciated it. I also used their "little names,'* Chinese fashion, at 
home, never calling them coldly by their surnames, or "Number One" 
and "Number Two," or most barbarous of all, indiscriminately, "Boy!" 
As my Chinese improved, this habit and the use of other similar forms 
of speech, overheard by our neighbors, incidentally gave us locally 
most face of ail. Nods of approval would then come even from the 
aged in the lanes. 

Beyond the customary double pay for the last month of the Chinese 
lunar year, about mid-February (so that everyone could "cross the 
boundary" financially at holiday time), I also helped with their chil- 
dren's schooling, in time of illness, and by always being on hand for 
those occasions of major and public importance in Chinese life: birth, 
marriage, and death. Money might then suddenly become a matter of 



54 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

urgent concern; and of course their reserves, from a Western point of 
view, were pitifully slender. The Chinese, however, can smile blandly 
with unbudgeable composure when calamity is only half a step away. 
All together we thus lived a dignified if thoroughly local existence; 
and its satisfactions were good. Nothing I ever did in China took me 
nearer to the simple joys and sorrows of the people, or made me more 
a part of the very alley in which I lived, than a readiness thus to par- 
ticipate as heavily as my purse would bear in all the ta shih or "great 
events" of my servants', and also of their families', lives. We knew 
what we were about, all of us; and for years we sailed our common 
craft in consequence without mishap. 

As I have already said, I deliberately chose two servants who spoke 
no English. This had a double advantage: I had no pretension from 
below, and I could also observe the native system working with a 
minimum of adaptation to fit in with foreign fancies. Their names, 
which will often occur in these pages, were Wen-Pin, "Simple-yet- 
Eloquent Letters," an upstanding young lackey once trained in the 
then vanished czarist Russian Embassy, whose character was of touch- 
ing purity and singular incorruptibility; and Hsu Jung, "Hsii-the- 
Glorious," my minor servant, smaller, somewhat older, much more 
plebeian and less honest, but full of interest in life. Hsu Jung was 
obviously not so well brought up; he was far less concerned with mat- 
ters involving ethical correctness than 'was Wen-Pin. For the latter, 
whose family name was Chia, came from a completely self-respecting 
household, that is, one properly grounded in Confucian precepts. The 
origins of Hsu Jung were by contrast indefinite. He was vaguely Bud- 
dhist, much more superstitious, but most of all merely full of the 
pleasures and excitements of living. His zest could reach marvelous 
intensity. 

From the first we were three human beings, come together. They 
so naturally expected me to be interested in their characteristics, and 
that they should observe mine, that the unconscious rudeness of the 
conventional Western system, which generally assumes that neither 
party will pay too much attention to the humanity of the other, and 



The Comforts of Life 55 

the coldness or hypocrisy o the resulting relation, have struck me 
forcibly ever since. 

I had chosen these two to serve me separately before I learned that 
nothing could have produced a more complex situation, since it cut 
across the cardinal principle that there must be a hierarchy in service, 
with a direct devolution of authority. During seven years we never 
solved this problem; we lived with it. It required a nice distinction 
to assign minor tasks, specifying them myself, since this they could 
not do alone. For although one was superior and one inferior, there 
was no formal chief, one who had "called upon" the other, to serve 
under him. 

Occasionally, in the first years, there would be an explosion, a raging 
typhoon after a long spell of good weather. At such times silences 
would become very vocal, or one would appear from the kitchen and 
I would even be told that the problem was insoluble. "One must, it is 
necessary, confer with 'him 5 " [the other] ! A day or two of resentment 
would grip us all. Yet I think we finally learned that as my first de- 
cision had been made, thus time having already gone by it now 
must continue. Decorum finally made the thought of change no longer 
seriously to be considered; but not until we had been through the 
usual threats of dismissal or resignation several times. 

So I found out how Chinese solidarity worked, even when there 
was no sympathy of temperament to support it. Like two parties in 
an unsuccessful marriage, Wn-Pin never grew to like Hsii Jung spon- 
taneously, and this feeling was reciprocated. Yet it never interfered 
except triflingly with co-operation in line of duty. If in the early days 
I specified who was to do a routine task, perhaps at an awkward mo- 
ment when -the servant whom I had named was not there, I would 
blandly be told, "He has mounted the great causeway to buy a packet 
of tea leaves." This pretext of absence to shop for a trifle merely meant 
that the affair was not of my business; what I needed would always 
be properly attended to anyway. Perhaps at that moment, calculating 
from some previous statement that I had planned to be away, the 
servant in question had gone on a round of visits; or else was sitting 
entranced in a Chinese theater, listening to the falsetto lament of some 
improbably noble character in a romance from the chivalric histories 



56 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

of the Three Kingdoms. There were no days, not even hours, off: this 
was really the better system, 

Or, if a servant became ill, or had exceptionally to go off to attend 
to some piece of private business, to my constant wonder he provided 
upon his own initiative a substitute, usually some member of his 
family. Nothing ever interrupted service; and yet private life was not 
sacrificed in the process. All the intolerable strain of ducking in and 
out for working hours such as we know it in the West, of racing to 
work merely to be found present at a given moment, simply did not 
exist. I know how comfortable the afternoon visitings must have been, 
because guests gradually also appeared in my own kitchen, staying 
there quietly by the hour. If I entered, or the broad leaves of the door 
were ajar, I would receive a dignified bow; manners were always un- 
consciously good. There was dignity, no shame, no desire to avoid 
observation. This was tranquil enjoyment of a right. 

The mutual credit system had really astonishing ramifications. Later, 
as "expert," I occasionally was called in to exhort or discharge a servant 
in other households, run by foreigners who observed other conven- 
tions. We then would invariably have an hour of drama, in which I 
had to learn to play my part, 

"Well, then," I would finally decide, "since things have come to this 
pass, unfortunately you must go!" 

The offender was never dismayed. He only smiled more intently, 
quite willing. 

"I shall indeed depart promptly," he would reply. 

Why? Because that would be his vacation! He had helped with his 
own wages when members of his family had encountered similar mis- 
adventure. Now he would rest, now it was he who would be carried 
on their backs; and by the time he had used up his own invisible credit 
within the family system, a new job hopefully perhaps even a better 
one- would no doubt appear. The smiles were therefore strangely real. 

Also, if work suddenly multiplied or entertainment were afoot, 
surely and without fail new and willing hands would be present in the 
kitchen. Brothers or other relatives got wind of the enterprise mys- 
teriously; and they would arrive in the best of humor, to pang mang, 



The Comforts of Life 57 

a familiar phrase, to "help our haste." This was absolutely counted on 
by my own two; and thus with powers such as they could dispose of 
within their own circle, no familiar task was too difficult for them* 
They in turn would occasionally go elsewhere, summoned in the same 
underground fashion; and I know that the challenge was pleasurable. 

If I invited more people to a dinner party than could be cared for 
easily, someone in the kitchen would be helping to fang mang; at our 
own holiday times, or if I celebrated a Chinese feast, there were always 
hands to fang mang. My face was involved, they wordlessly told me. 
All of us must do well what we were committed to do; and to pay 
off social obligation handsomely was one of the solid satisfactions of 
life. 

Of course I inevitably entered their credit system, too, for specially 
excellent and thoughtful arrangements put me, contentedly enough, 
quite properly in their debt. At all such times, though, my household 
even down to my dogenjoyed itself hugely. Within the barrier gate 
the busde was pleasurable; an air of confidence and good cheer put 
one in an excellent mood for the moment when it would enthusias- 
tically be announced, everything ready, that the guests' rickshas were 
at the door. This backing never failed me, even once! One can see why 
Chinese parties are so glowingly remembered by those fortunate 
enough to have known them at their best. 

Do not imagine, however, that in China only the rich can thus 
entertain. I have seen humble folk, even ricksha boys, give elaborate 
parties in their own tumbledown courtyards, complete with cater- 
ing, for nearly a hundred guests. How can they possibly afford this? 
Well, if it is to be a marriage, the whole neighborhood, not to speak 
of the two families involved, must be invited anyway. The p'engor 
> matshed maker is first called in. Within a few hours tall bamboo 
poles have been set up, and a large structure, the f '&ng itself, forming 
a roof over the whole court, is lashed with stout twine to this frame- 
work. The host now has his large room for a day or two. 

I remember one such party, the wedding of a friend's ricksha boy. 
In spite of the difficulty of finding a good bride for someone in this 
occupation which was considered unsteady we were informed that 



58 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the matchmaker had picked out a very suitable young lady. Would 
we come and see? 

As the guests arrived, each presented with both hands a rose-crimson 
envelope, containing a gift of paper money. Aware of the custom in 
advance, this we did properly also. I later learned that to within a 
few Chinese dollars these gifts had covered the cost of the food served 
at the party. There was also hire for the varnished tables and stools, 
there was the f f ng itself of course, and there were minor expenses. 
But even while the feasting was in progress some old uncle was doing 
the accounts. All was entered into a ledger; and the new groom made 
his first courtesy calls upon those who had given most. Face thus be- 
came an extra reward for generosity. 

The experience and powerful stimulation of large-scale entertaining 
is thus not denied even to the very humble in China. This is what it 
means to belong to a people who have had perhaps the longest un- 
broken social experience on our globe. Public good manners, on such 
occasions, seem to be instinctive; everyone knew the cues in Peking 
and seemingly wanted only the chance to display with ease and 
charming gracefulness a role well-mastered long ago. 

Another thing I learned, as time went on, was how rapidly news 
could travel among the uneducated. My servants were by no means 
illiterate; indeed they read the almanac constantly. It was their guide 
book through the lunar year, giving directions even about what days 
were best for washing the hair. They reveled also in long novels full 
of Chinese deeds of derring-do, with heroes leaping to housetops, 
brandishing huge swords and making bold speeches. To their amuse- 
ment I occasionally borrowed their books, which I found were also 
surprisingly familiar to my teacher. Yet it was comment upon what 
occurred immediately about them, the living and contemporary scene, 
that gave life its savor. The real world in their eyes was of vastly more 
interest than the shadowy pastime of reading. 

The kitchen was naturally the center for communication; and news- 
bearing there never ceased. The sturdy Shantung water carrier who 
daily filled my glazed earthenware cistern. for we had no well of our 
own, still less "self-arriving" water was always ready to deliver himself 



The Comforts of Life 59 

o a hearty sentence. The coal-balls for my brick kitchen stove, high 
and platform-like, came in with a further bit of gossip. Or the barber 
would arrive, put down his carrying pole, set up his little red-painted 
portable bench and place a brass basin upon a high wooden stand that 
he also brought with him. Then, for one of the servants, would begin 
a long and leisurely session, with a shave over the whole scalp, fol- 
lowed by rinsing and ear-picking. This gossip was prized as among 
the best, for barbers of course went everywhere. Or members of the 
family would quietly and simply be there (I came to know a great 
number of them well by sight). One could never tell just why they 
had arrived, but news was always passing, being digested and com- 
mented upon; and obviously it kept coming promptly and fresh from 
its source. 

This was specially true of the messengers who delivered "chits," the 
local name for our notes that replaced Western telephone calls. When 
foreigners were in close relation, such messengers might be on the road 
constantly. Each chit was entered into a chit-book (I have mine yet) ; 
and its receipt was attested, if the master was away from home, by a 
rubber stamp or else by the ordinary house seal pressed into it. The 
latter was esteemed more formal and therefore in better taste. If the 
message was received personally the master might scrawl his initials, 
foreign fashion, beside his own name. In this way we could nearly 
always tell quite accurately what had happened to every document. 

When only a word of acknowledgement was needed, it was often 
added in this place. "Would you perhaps like to come picnicking on 
the lakes next Thursday evening?" "With pleasure." -"Do you care 
to see the Devil Dancers tomorrow in the Lama Temple ?" "Drop 
by my house first!" 

These messengers came from other households; they were all known 
to each other; and they usually sat quietly in the kitchen, chatting and 
sipping tea while a return message was being devised within. Chits 
were often frisky; nearly everyone enjoyed the arrangement, not least 
the messenger himself. Sensing his role, he sat recounting the latest, 
or hearing our own news; and it never took long for anything of re- 
mark to spread over the town. A messenger with five notes to deliver 
knew by heart who had dined with whom the night before, how it 



60 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

had all gone, and so on, in the whole of his master's circle, by the time 
he returned home with his chit-book again. Further, since we were 
all said to have nicknames in these regions, the literal sentences must 
at times have been somewhat curious. One Westerner, who had a 
weakness for visiting hostesses just before meal hours, was known 
simply as the 'Want-Food One." There were "Old Virgins" and 
Great or Small "Very-Verys" (older or younger married women) in 
numbers. 

If that special rupture of the amenities commonly known as a 
"Peking quarrel" were bubbling, and they often did, the messenger's 
role would become more active. I do not know whether these alter- 
cations sprang from pride confronting pride, since on however small 
a scale each was sovereign in his own scrap of kingdom; or from ex- 
asperation when an adversary of one's own kind began to set bounds, 
to limit one's power. These were traits that life in courtyards en- 
gendered. Even the Chinese were aware of a common temptation 
to "bolt the door and set oneself up as Emperor." 

Here I stumbled upon what must have been a wellspring of classi- 
cal Chinese intrigue. Especially during love affairs, the messenger 
had a chance to make so much personal face, which he was not at all 
loath to seize, that drama sprang into being full-fledged. The house- 
hold servants were informed: "As she wrote that chit, her amah 
[maid] told me that she appeared to . . ." etc. This would be relayed 
within; and although I sternly discouraged such gossip, from time to 
time the situation would explode if my servants felt that I ought to 
know something of importance to myself (as they considered it), and 
therefore to all of us before I penned my reply. After all they were 
my small army, and in the world ambush was inevitable. One must 
be prepared. 

Or perhaps some genial party was going forward, perhaps arrange- 
ments were being made in fine weather for an excursion to a distant 
temple; and the preparations food, crockery, and transportation- 
were being divided. A message would come, and after domestic con- 
sultation I would select a sheet of paper. Finally I would put my en- 
velope into the chit-book, adding on my line the words "Reply here- 
with." Meanwhile the messenger had kept his own liaison unbroken, 



The Comforts of Life 61 

sitting comfortably in the kitchen. The oral system worked quite as 
well, on his level, to keep him in touch with such affairs, as did for us 
our own writing. Connection was therefore double, and from the 
Chinese point of view now secure. 

One other creature joined this small company of a student bachelor 
with his two servants, a little dog so wise and graceful, so unreal, that 
at times it seemed as if he were one of the traditional sculptured lion- 
dogs come to life. He was indeed a lion-dog, and the breed had come 
from Lhassa; so his forbears had been Tibetan. Erh Niu was his 
enigmatic name. It meant merely "Bullock Two," or else "Bull the 
Second." Perhaps he had been called a little bull because someone had 
fancied a resemblance; perhaps there had also been a number of pup- 
pies in his litter, and as is the Chinese custom, they had all been num- 
bered. In China even children are named in this way; and I was 
later to meet a man of distinction whose name was "Cloud Five." The 
four elder cloud brothers are less well-known. 

Erh Niu had an excellent pedigree. He had been presented to a 
China-born foreign woman by a eunuch of high rank, living in retire- 
ment at the Eunuch Temple as we called it an elegant and well- 
administered establishment near the Eight Precious Hills (where the 
Westerners played golf). Eunuchs solaced themselves in their old age, 
when most of them became noticeably frail, with their pets; and they 
were known always to possess the best of the breed. 

This dignified miniature bullock, with his thick silken coat of 
several tawny colors, and long hair forever concealing his eyes, was 
generously ceded to me after I had once admired him, and then came 
to spend his existence in my own courtyards. For the first few days 
he crawled under low furniture whenever possible, and was generally 
miserable. Yet this wore off nicely, and Hsii-the-Glorious, who had a 
quick taste for everything living, from pet crickets (which he kept in 
little wicker cages over the kitchen stove) to the passing monkeys in 
street shows, and who was much more interested in my new acquisition 
than the Confucian-minded Wn-Pin, soon loved Erh Niu with a 
devoted admiration that the dog found frankly satisfying. 

He responded to such a degree that even when he was being 



62 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

bathed, bedraggled and with his wet head shrunk to squirrel-like 
proportions, all his fur drenched and soapy, he knew that Hsu Jung 
was doing what was proper. The daily combings to fluff out his fur 
became highly comical; Erh Niu took interest in telling us, stroke by 
stroke with extra whimpers ad libitum just how it was going. 

My teacher definitely did not approve of too much interest, and 
even less of any ecstasies. In his fixed tenets any such inordinate love 
of beasts was undignified for man. It was merely one more proof of 
Western frivolity! So there was an exchange of recognition between 
himself and the dog, with a mutually intended distance left between 
them. 

Erh Niu took his duties seriously. He was often bored, to the point 
of heaving repeated sighs when life was dull; and he expressed a 
knowledge of gradations in rank and intimacy that I have never seen 
in any other animal: men before women, Chinese before foreigners, 
eunuchs of course above all, and finally my friends before casual 
acquaintances. 

How he sensed my boredom on those rare occasions when a half- 
stranger had to be shown the house was a mystery; yet after such a 
visit he was always completely aware of my relief to be free again. 
When a eunuch toddled in on a formal call, or when the tall old 
wine merchant, my landlord's intermediary (whose shop was nearby 
at the rear gate of the Imperial City), arrived for some visit-of-affairs, 
Erh Niu's pleasure was so great that he would actually crawl under 
their robes, trying to lie flat and quite concealed. Only with difficulty 
could he then be extricated. 

Yet if some Westerner fresh to Peking from a tourist ship, armed 
with a letter and passing through for a mere five days, came by hired 
ricksha from one of the big hotels, to have a cup of tea, Erh Niu's 
violent barking could only be stopped by his physical removal to the 
kitchen, in the arms of the secretly delighted Hsu Jung. Then, when 
the visit was over, and the faded' red door of my outer barrier gate 
had banged shut of its own weight after the departing guest, an 
invariable and quite complicated ceremony would begin. First the 
dog would leap wildly over the two intermediate thresholds to rejoin 
me as I was returning to my inner courtyard, kicking his legs back- 



The Comforts of Life 63 

ward and steeplechasing over the high Chinese sills. A ritual of puri- 
fication followed, round and round the court, as vigorously as he 
could run and in the largest possible circles, stopping only to cough, 
up the hair he had caught in his throat. The same circling, with 
renewed scrambling, would be resumed a time or two further. Finally 
he would come to me, and stretching himself by a sweeping bow, 
very low in front, regard me from under his mop of hair as if clearly 
to say: "You really give me almost more than I can bear; yet, as you 
see, I perform it!" He would then trot promptly to a comfortable 
corner, his duty done, and subside, incredibly flat, his head glued to 
the ground. A final sigh or two, and we savored domestic peace, as 
I resumed work on a Chinese lesson and life returned again to proper 
tranquillity. 

Hsu Jung not being Confucian, cared much less for appearances than 
did Wen-Pin. So he continued to adore the dog, and many times 
solemnly told me with an air of deep belief that the animal understood 
everything and could do everything, except speak. On Chinese holi- 
days he dressed Erh Niu's hair elaborately; and over the years a 
variety of pigtails and topknots appeared, often resembling the tight 
wool-bound brushes or erect fronds on small children's partly shaved 
heads, as the Chinese love them. I would often know of a morning 
that some feast day had actually arrived because Erh Niu would 
appear, trotting self-consciously beside my morning bowl of tea, 
decorated with perhaps several high tufts, tight bound in bright-red 
or cochineal-pink wool 

The dog took all this as his due; it was we who were the animals 
if we did not concede him his dignity. He had only one race of 
natural enemies the marauding cats. If one of these silently appeared 
on the curving roofs, he would break into a fury of barking. Mistress 
Cat would usually look silently down in disdain, then walk com- 
posedly to some other place. 

When the days of the war with the Japanese came on, Hsu Jung 
invented a new amusement because of this. After the first abortive air 
raid (when on a dark midnight my servants roused me by lantern 
light, reporting how in the lane it was being passed about that we 
should quickly smear Chinese mustard about our nostrils, as an anti- 



64 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

dote to mustard gas), in time we became quite used to Japanese air- 
planes passing in flight over the still peaceful city, bent on more distant 
missions with their deadly cargoes. At such times Hsu Jung would hug 
Erh Niu tight, or go over to him as he lay in his round basket, and 
pointing to the airplane cry: "There are cats, CATS, within the Sun-Root 
People's flying boat I" (The Japanese lived in the east, which is, o 
course, the quarter of origin of the sun.) Erh Niu never failed to try 
to frighten them off, and this always cheered us all. For we loved 
our dog, and of course we knew tie Chinese proverb: "Cats shift 
houses (in time of adversity); dogs do not shift houses." 

Erh Niu never lost awareness of his superior identity. He ate with 
more moderation, with more decency and cleanliness, than many a 
human being. He could be playful, and he could condescend to 
special moods of indulgence and tolerance. Yet he always remembered 
"who he was"; and his sense of our common property and mutual 
duties was ingrained. It was as if the lessons had been learned forever 
on the roof of the Asiatic world while in the West, we must presume, 
barbarians were still painting themselves and perhaps even their 
dogs blue. 

When I had to leave China, when the fortunes of war had finally 
crushed down all our hope for any pattern of life as we could know 
it together in Peking, Hsu Jung came to me one day to assure me 
that, when I was gone and the dog should become his, if he had any- 
thing to eat, Erh Niu also should have something to eat. The good man 
made this offer solemnly, knowing how uncertain it might become 
who would or who could, eat in the days that were coming and 
what! 

Besides my town residence, in that time of abundance, I also had 
one in the country. It lay in the fields several miles from the west wall, 
on the way to the "Race Horse Ground," Pao Ma Ch'ang, where 
under the leadership of the British were held the winter paper-chases, 
with Mongolian ponies, pink coats, velvet caps and all, in a few of 
which I occasionally joined. P'ao Ma Ch'ang itself even boasted of 
several poorly imitated half-timbered English cottages, including one 



The Comforts of Life 65 

half club and half dormitory for hunting visitors that as a whim had 
been named "The Honourable Week End." 

My country house was a small Buddhist temple at some distance 
from these creations. It consisted of two courts only, a rustic forecourt, 
much littered with country gear and farm produce, and a spacious 
inner one. This was shorn of its principal hall, which long ago had 
collapsed. The space in front of the platform to it, nevertheless, still 
provided quite enough shelter in the existing side-houses to make it 
a most comfortable place for withdrawal and country quiet. I could 
even invite guests, since there had been built, as a modern addition, a 
separate high-walled enclosure, off center to the rear, with three small 
extra rooms. 

It was not my temple at all, but that of an Englishwoman who left 
China from time to time on journeys to other parts of the world; and 
while she was away I kept an eye on it for her and at the same time 
enjoyed its use. It had originally been occupied by some czarist 
Russians who had come out to administer the affairs of the Trans- 
Siberian railway when this had first been put through, so the property 
had been sufficiently altered, with a well and water supply, wooden 
flooring and glass windows, to adapt it to the foreigner. 

A terraced half-wild external garden, European in concept, opened 
out from a small back gate. Within this lower walled enclosure, on a 
bent wood Russian reclining chair, I used to pass hours in the grateful 
spring sunshine, aware of the passing of time only from the moving 
shadows of the still bare branches upon the stone-paved walks. 

The courtyard within was oddly arranged. After the collapse of 
the main hall, low brick-bordered terraces had been made from the 
rubble, following the lines of the original walls. Upon these were set 
out growing plants, and the shape of the building was thus retained. 
There was further a curious central structure, really a square brick 
tower one story high, also built of the rubble, over what once had 
been the main altar. Steps led to the top; and in the good time of the 
year, all here was floral greenery with plants in pots, everything open 
to the sky and a fine view of the tranquil countryside beyond. This 
place became specially alluring in late summer when the tossing wheat 
was bleached to light yellow, and the blue-clothed peasants, stooping 



66 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

at their work in near or more distant fields, reminded one strikingly 
of scenes by Breughel the Elder. Indeed, "Breughel-outside-the-Walls" 
I named the whole region. 

An old guardian lived in one part of the east house; and the few 
Buddhist images still left, powdered with dust, were kept by him 
next door in a cluttered storeroom that also was used to house guests' 
rickshas. He gave these gods a few meager sticks of incense morning 
and evening, with three blows upon a dirty gong; this was apparently 
quite sufficient for them. 

Behind the guardian's lodging there was further a Chinese green- 
house, half sunken pit and half mud wall, the slanting frames on its 
sunward side covered with Korean paper. Out of this primitive con- 
trivance, with the slightest of heating from a tiny smudge stove in 
winter, the guardian's assistant, a simple soul, drew numerous and 
thriving flowers. In good weather they were transferred in tubs or 
pots to the tower, or else to the low platforms under it where Buddhas 
and Lohan had once been enthroned. 

Across the tree-paved court, finally, was the west h&use, where I 
usually lived when I came out alone. This consisted of an inner bed- 
room, and beyond it, through an improvised bathroom pleasantly 
cool and shady in summer, a quite spacious main living room. This 
my English friend had arranged with the greatest charm. Numerous 
fantastic mythological Chinese animals "beasties" as she called them 
pranced gaily on scrolls upon its walls. A sure eye for color had made 
every other object complete their harmonies; and soft opalescent rugs 
from Kansu covered the floor. The excellent simple Chinese furniture 
that she had transported from town, was arranged to perfection in 
this setting. 

Whenever the weather lured me, summer or winter, I bicycled to 
this place from my Wax Storehouse, often stopping to break my 
journey at the first of the "traveling palaces"-or stations for the 
Emperor's progresses outside the walls. This was known to all of us 
as the Fishing Terrace, since it included a charming pavilion for this 
purpose, set on a high stone base projecting into an artificial lake. 
The property had been ceded to one of the last of the imperial Grand 



The Comforts of Life 67 

Tutors, and was quite tolerably cared for. It had an extensive tangled 
garden with, some fine rockery and old planting, and a well-drained 
system of canals intermittently flowing with very clear water. 

The Fishing Terrace was the best place, for miles around, from 
which to watch the cheerful havoc that autumn played with the leaves 
from ancient trees, spared only in such properties. In the days of 
crystal purity, of a blessed and almost holy gaiety, that mark the 
autumn in Peking, sudden heavy showers of leaves would batter one 
during a walk, coming down as from the sky at some carnival of the 
immortals. China, in moods such as this, gave more than a foretaste 
of heaven. 

When I finally reached the temple, quiet would gratefully descend. 
Often, before my tea, I would feel the compelling need of sleep; and 
from the depths of it I would wake as to another world. I could move 
about rooms slowly; simple gestures became so deliberate that they 
recalled archaic elegance. Perhaps I would determine to break the 
spell, to mount the brick tower and see what was happening to the 
"Breughel world" outside. Yet a new and even sweeter invitation to 
meditate would sweep over me, and an hour later I would find myself 
still comfortably reclining on the divan under the "beasties," my tea 
tray rung for and brought in, beside me still undisturbed. 

It was in this place that I learned how little, in our modern world, 
we know of simple physical peace. After a day or so of such solitude 
and repose, even the bones and muscles of my body set themselves 
differently. Reading or study, instead of knocking for entrance at 
rigid and half-barred gates to the mind, tranquilly took on simple 
clarity of meaning. 

I could also go on long country walks, from the back gate across 
the fields. I went partly for the pleasure of seeing what was afoot- 
man always perfectly matched with nature, at whatever season of the 
year but in part also for the mere sensuous pleasure of my return, 
exercised and relaxed, to this haven of silent peace. 

The pottering kindly man who was guardian had been trained to 
"do for me" alone; and fortunately I liked the simple food that he 
could cook. We occasionally added to it when I sent him to a nearby 



68 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

hamlet for a handful of some such delicacy as dried mushrooms, or 
pungent Chinese sausage, to flavor his well-prepared rice. His very 
age kept the spell intact; neither of us were at all dependent upon the 
world; and by this arrangement we enjoyed a common freedom from 
its confusions. In these almost mystic spells of withdrawal, especially 
on tranquil starlit nights, as I paced the courtyard beside my lamp- 
lighted shelter within, I knew deeply that here was a better life. 

At about this time I was reading the great Tang philosopher poet, 
Tu Fu, and also the verses of Po Chu-i, both of whom had much to 
say about just such impressions and such resolves. Surely their tender- 
ness and detachment, their smiling disillusion with life, and their 
pity and understanding of how ill it goes for most of us, never could 
have been apprehended in a better setting. 

Jluin, in an ancient country like China, amid appealing simplicity 
like this, can be accepted smilingly; even the final and greatest ruin of 
death. Further, since in imagination human beings can prefigure this 
last irreparable loss, and then retrospectively assay once more the 
transitoriness of mortal existence, one learns not to reproach oneself 
excessively for errors of the past, and conceding ultimate defeat, to 
consult one's intimate moods, one's own quiet and small desires. 

The enjoyment of these precious gifts, one learns, the gods will 
often sanction, however grimly they may trace for us the larger 
pattern. Under such circumstances man is finally returned, whole, to 
himself. "So let me live,'* said the farmer-poet T'ao Yuan-Ming, over 
fifteen hundred years ago, "thus should I be content to live and die, 
and without questionings of the heart gladly accept the will of 
Heaven." 



CHAPTER v Peking: The Grand Design 



TN GENERAL, of course, I dwelt not in the country, but as a 
A townsman, within the walls. Yet even this existence was different 
from urban life elsewhere. Of all the great cities of the world none 
can rival Peking for the regularity and harmony of its plan. As a 
design, it reflects clearly the social scheme that called it into being. 
And although that scheme has now slipped forever into the past, 
so powerful and enduring was its expression in terms of space and 
enclosure, of axis and perspective, that a curious illusion is produced: 
somewhere, it seems, even if now invisible, the system that created 
such a marvel must continue. All the citizens of Peking, Chinese or 
foreign, are conscious of the city's majesty; the sheer breadth of the 
setting enhances composure and lends dignity to everyday manners. 
The plan is composed about ,a single straight line, drawn north 
and south through the center of the city. The massive surrounding 
walls are so regular, except for a single bend at the northwest corner, 
to accommodate them to a watercourse there, that if one were to fold 
a map along this north and south line, the east and west sections would 
very nearly match. Along this riving line formerly went all the author- 
ity in the capital, for placed squarely upon it was the so-called Purple 
Forbidden City, the palace itself. This Great Within, as it was 
familiarly named, is a perfect oblong, more than half a mile long, 
and almost half a mile wide. The power of a whole empire had once 
radiated from this central cell. 

69 



70 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

About this innermost area is the so-called Imperial City', once com- 
pletely walled behind a further enclosure of its own, and created for 
the needs of the palace. Cell thus contains cell. Outside these two 
ordinary citizens could live; yet a distinction was made between the 
two great divisions of the population, conquerors and conquered, 
when the Manchu rulers replaced the native Ming dynasty in 1644. 
At that time, the new privileged class completely took over a third 
and outermost enclosing cell, reaching from the Imperial City to the 
fortified walls; and this is still named after them the Tartar City. 
The Chinese proper were commanded to live in front of, and there- 
fore "below," the gates to this triple arrangement of cell within cell. 
The humbler zone was vast, however, and protected by an outer 
set of walls of its own. It was also slightly broader, so that its ends 
overlapped a part of the hollow rectangle given to the Manchus. 
Such is the so-called Chinese City, populous, less well-built, and lack* 
ing the spacious palace properties to be found in the Tartar City. 

Thus in Peking there are always walls within walls, moat within 
moat, and gates pierced by great boulevards leading to still further 
gates. The walls themselves, of time-hardened brick, are the pride of 
the city. Nobly high, massively thick, widening toward their base, 
and crowned with battlemented parapets like a medieval fortress, they 
contain the town. Their similarity to European fortification invari- 
ably causes surprise; but in its day feudal warfare was much the same 
all over the world, and attack and defense with archery, in time of 
siege, everywhere brought about similar forms. So broad are the cause- 
ways laid out upon the walls that when they were in good repair, 
it is said, a number of horsemen could gallop abreast over the top. I 
have also been told that to make a complete circuit, marking all the 
bounds, requires a walk of some twenty-five miles. Marines in the 
American garrison would occasionally set out to do this, timing it as 
a challenge. 

The effect of living within this vast enclosure, so handsomely pro- 
tected, is definite. The local population trusts the system in spite of all 
the evidence of modern warfare. Insensibly, one comes to do so 
oneself. Each of the great gates is solemnly closed at nightfall, to open 



Peking: The Grand Design 71 

only at dawn again the next morning. Whatever may befall the fol- 
lowing day, the citizen thus feels safe during the watches of the night. 

In the center of a more ancient scheme, an even larger city planned 
by the Mongols, but now north of the Forbidden City, are the Drum 
Tower and Bell Tower. The drums once thrummed regularly at night- 
fall from their high platform old Chinese have described to me the 
great sound spreading over the rooftops to tell the burgher that cur- 
few had come. In time of alarm the tocsin could also be sounded 
from the even loftier Bell Tower, sending its warning to the whole 
area within the walls. Chinese cities were historically planned in this 
way whenever possible, the two towers being placed ideally at the 
intersection of diagonals from the corners of the foursquare walls. This 
arrangement can be found in Chinese antiquity. 

The gates also were important traditionally. Since the Chinese 
make use of walls, I have once heard it expressed, to "govern by 
prestige," progress from one zone to another is to any Chinese a 
matter of importance. At each opening he is quick to sense whether 
he is to be advanced or stopped. Chinese history and Chinese historical 
novels abound in critical incidents occurring at such and such a gate. 
Their names were carefully chosen; their position determined by the 
laws of geomancy; and even Chinese of only moderate learning know 
by heart the names of many of the chief gates of their ancient capitals. 

Peking, in this most splendid, has gates arranged with the greatest 
regularity. In the south wall of the Tartar City there are three, includ- 
ing the majestic Ta Ch'ien Men or Great Front Gate, which gives 
on to a broad esplanade leading through the center of the city straight 
to the enclosure of the palace itelf. The Chinese City has the same 
number, only these are lower, less imposing, ajid farther away to the 
south. Each of the east, west, and north sides of the main rectangle 
has two gates apiece. 

So important are these in Chinese eyes that their demolition would 
rob Peking of something fundamental. Yet the westernmost gate in the 
enclosing northern wall, alas, has lost its outer tower and barbican. 
Once, when Wen-Pin was talking of the old days, and of how when 
the person of the Emperor was in its proper place, the center of the 
whole grand hive, all had gone so much better, he sighed and said: 



72 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

"Yet even if he could be put back on his throne again, how could this 
any longer be made right? Is not the Te Sheng Men, the Gate of 
Triumphant Virtue, now ruined?" This gate, it should be said, is 
more than two miles as the crow flies from where the Emperor 
hypothetically would have sat enthroned. So sensitive is the Chinese 
feeling for symmetry! 

The fortification of these largest gates in the outer wall was made 
as complete as the military science of the age could contrive. A broad 
moat, further, encircled the whole. By imperial command nearby 
fields were to be plowed so that the direction of their furrows might 
impede, rather than advance, invading horsemen. 

Militarily, Peking is thus an almost perfect expression of the old 
Chinese system that evolved it. As the capital, moreover, it had also 
to be set in proper relation with the whole of the world about, even 
to the planets. This concern with the entire firmament has no parallel 
that I know of. Orientation, once complete, was to achieve no less 
than a complete harmony of man with nature. The Temple of the 
Sun, therefore, was set within its great enclosure outside the walls 
and to the east; that of the Moon, its somewhat lesser counterpart, 
lies exactly as one would expect to the west, opposite. The familiar 
Temple of Heaven is to the south, balanced across the main axis by 
the Temple of Agriculture, with which it thus creates a pair. It is 
given its true counterpart to the north, however, where was placed 
the Altar of the Earth, lying outside the walls. As one moves about 
within and without the metropolis, the sun and moon, the heavens and 
earth, are thus constantly in mind. Imagination plays upon these 
symbols even in daily routine. This is one o the charms of Peking 
to be found in no other Chinese city. 

Color, too, plays a symbolic role. Yellow was for the Emperor, 
or what was the Emperor's, alone. If one sees it on the cresting of a 
palace wall, that palace was for imperial use; if it is the color of the 
glazed tiles of the main hall of a temple, that building also was once 
designated as imperial. Green came second; it was the princely color, 
and was used exactly as yellow but of course alway subordinate to it 
The common subject used plain earthenware tiles for his roofs 
glaze was never permittedof the ordinary deep gray that is also the 



Peking: The Grand Design 73 

color of Peking house walls. Indeed, this neutral gray makes every- 
where *a constant foil to the brilliance of the glazes on the sloping roofs 
of buildings of consequence. There are also temples named after their 
symbolic colors. Such are the Black Temple, and the Yellow Temple, 
north of the city, the roofs of which are of these colors. None of this 
was ever accidental. Condign punishment overtook those who im- 
prudently committed follies. 

Thus was contrived the grand design; moat enclosing moat, wall 
behind wall, and compartment opening within compartment, a 
hierarchy reflecting every gradation of power and influence, a sym- 
bolism finally embracing the heavens themselves. If architecture in- 
fluences men unconsciously,* is it a wonder that the inhabitants of such 
a city were indeed more enlightened, more truly cultivated, than those 
of any other in China? The citizen of Peking is however quite aware 
that from birth to death he moves in a splendid world of human 
planning; and because of his familiarity with imperial prescriptions 
and imperial scale for all such matters, even today he is given special 
respect throughout the provinces. In this sense Peking remains un- 
changingly the true capital of China, generally loved, looked up to and 
admired. If one inquires concerning almost any amenity, one will 
invariably hear in conversation: "In Peking they arrange it thus and 
so." That is the criterion. 

To describe the whole vast enclosure in detail, neighborhood by 
neighborhood, would weary the reader. Yet as one went about various 
regions within the walls, one entered many quarters both diverse and 
individual. 

There was, for example, the aerial purity of the circular Temple of 
Heaven, crowned with a triple tiled roof of deepest sapphire blue; 
its flat circular white marble altar, also triple, lay open to the sky. 
Here, at times of high ceremony, the Emperor knelt to take upon his 
mortal shoulders responsibility for the welfare of the whole empire. 
This was a place to return to, remembering Chinese history, at chang- 
ing seasons of the year. Mist or moonlight, rain or snow, would en- 
hance one aspect or another of its symbolism. 

The Chai Kung, or Palace of Retirement, within this enclosure, 



74 THE YEARS THAT WERE FA1 

was always for me a place o special significance. Here before each 
sacrifice die Emperor withdrew for several days of purification. A 
hush always seemed to surround these now empty courts; indeed the 
whole enclosure of the Temple of Heaven was eternally still. Its 
broad alleys, planted regularly with cypress trees, were laid out formally 
somewhat after the manner of a French forest, offering unbroken 
long perspectives. In snow and sun, with the curving brilliant roofs 
rising against a pure sky at the end of a vista, the sight could be 
dazzling. 

The Temple of Agriculture, in a separate enclosure across the 
central line of the city, was its terrestrial counterpart. Here the chief 
altar was square, since as every Chinese knows that is the shape of 
the earth, in contrast with the round for heaven. The Emperor came 
to these grounds every spring to plow the first furrow. Symbolically, 
this readied the whole empire for a new cycle of sowing and planting. 
The Empress had her corresponding duty to the north, in the grounds 
of the imperial lakes, where she plucked the first mulberry leaves to 
feed the cocoons which yielded silk and thus made possible civilized 
clothing. Like the ceremonies of the Emperor, hers also took place 
long before dawn: the first man and the first woman of the civilized 
world must be about their important tasks early, to show the way to 
feed and clothe mankind. During the bleached hot days of summer, 
the grounds of the Temple of Agriculture were so abandoned, so 
utterly deserted, yet still remained so green and shaded, that they then 
became one of my preferred places for study. Leaving my house by 
bicycle in the cool of the early morning, I often spent whole days 
there quietly reading or reflecting. 

The plan of the city, of course, provided ample space for religious 
building. The Temple of Confucius, with its cavernous and empty 
halls, was placed to the north, where its spacious courts were far re- 
moved from the perpetual clamor of the commercial region about 
the Ch'ien Men. Not far from the Confucianists dwelt the wild and 
stormy-looking Lama priests, in the brooding courts of their complex 
lamasery. The chief Taoists lived outside the city, as if to emphasize 
their minor place in the trilogy. These I shall describe later. Through- 



Peking: The Grand Design 75 

out all the "Cities," however, and especially within the Forbidden 
City itself, there were temple halls everywhere, shrines and altars in 
such numbers as are possible only in an ancient capital, where founda- 
tions had been lavish and long sustained. How many courtyards 
could one visit thronged on the great holidays, incense smoking in 
great bronze censers and gongs striking by the minute; or else private 
shrines quiet in the sunshine, fragrant with lotus or with peonies. 

Then there were the boulevards, the broad avenues that ran almost 
from wall to wall, especially the long straight ones traversing the 
Tartar City. Two chief arteries, going north and south, pierced 
through the residential quarters on either side of the palace. At the 
intersection of these with similar ones running east and west, were 
Chinese triumphal arches with brightly painted wooden framing 
propping up high banks of glazed and colored tile. These were the 
familiar p'ai-lou. A Single Arch in the East and West Cities marked 
the crossings at the level of the outer courts of the Forbidden City. 
A hollow square of Four Arches, east and west, was erected at more 
northerly intersections of the main boulevards. These four points, the 
East and West Single Arches and East and West Four Arches, were 
the centers for commerce and trade in the Tartar City. 

"To have your new foreign pipe fitted with a silver band and then 
properly engraved," Wen-Pin might say my teacher had recently 
named it "Floating Clouds" "I must go to that good silversmith's 
at the East Four Arches." 

Or Hsu Jung would be having dreams of wealth: "I hear that there 
will be a great silk sale tomorrow, at the new shop about to open near 
the West Single Arch " 

The trade of the whole Tartar City, and also of the cells within 
it, clustered obstinately about these four points. When a native of 
Peking becomes nostalgic, he is not thinking of the Great Within, 
or wishing himself back in some splendid temple courtyard; more 
probably he is longingj^or the savor of brisk trade, the crush of pros- 
perous crowds amid the cheerful babble of native voices, somewhere 
near one of these familiar p'ai-lou,. Here ricksha boys must walk their 
vehicles; here if one glimpses a friend, one must salute promptly 



j6 THE YEAfcS THAT WERE FAT 

before he is borne past on the milling stream. This is Chinese urban 
happiness. 

I had selected a much quieter part of the town to live in, north of 
the palace. To it I was later toldmost of the serious Western scholars 
eventually moved. There were good reasons for this; the neighborhood 
was indeed congenial. Here the half-deserted palace properties were 
magnificent, tall trees spreading above long unbroken stretches of high 
wall in the tranquil lanes. Vague regions, in part heaps of rubble, 
but in part also laid out as little kitchen gardens, often bounded these 
walls. Here common folk lived in small tumbledown huts, within the 
fortifications yet almost as if they were in the country. There were 
also many unpretentious houses like my own, with no gardens 
attached, yet far less cramped than those for example in the distant 
Chinese City. In time I came to distinguish quite clearly, as did all 
true Pekingese, between the manners, even almost the accent, of my 
own part of town and places as little distant as the East and West 
Single Arches. 

In early summer, in the North City, there were hours when one 
could hear the insects buzzing in the linden trees, against a back- 
ground of silence like that of a small country town. The vendors of 
refreshments settled comfortably under their blue cloth canopies for 
the long day, completely unhurried, not even seeking trade. Conver- 
sation was more tranquil, voices melodious. Occasionally there passed 
faces of great purity. Life here flowed traditionally; this was my part 
of town. 

At the opposite pole from this was the curiosity of Peking known 
as the Legation Quarter, an oblong area of some size under the 
shadow of the south wall of the Tartar City. Here had been erected, 
much after the manner of an international exhibition, a whole collec- 
tion of small palaces with adjoining villas and minor appurtenances, 
arranged for the practice of Western diplomacy. This had grown up 
as a planned quarter, on land divided among the various foreign 
powers after 1901; and it presented a most oddly assorted juxtaposi- 
tion of architectural tranches de gAtcau. 



Peking: The Grand Design 77 

The buildings of each legation in my time gradually these became 
embassies looked as if lifted bodily from their own country to be 
set down here in China. Not only were the styles all different, the 
very hardware on the windows would be French, or Dutch, or British; 
the plumbing, the tiling, all had been transported at the expense of 
the state to which the building belonged, to be combined with grosser 
Chinese materials at hand. 

Legation Street, running through the quarter from end to end, with 
its own iron barrier gates that could be closed in time of stress, pre- 
sented a succession of the largest of these buildings. Yet there were 
others in further broad tree-lined streets, named after Marco Polo 
or other more modern European worthies. Perhaps the culmination 
of the non-diplomatic buildings was the large, balconied, German 
hospital, in stern Teutonic Gothic, with an entrance doorway as for 
some hostel of Knights Templars. It gave on to roomy corridors, where 
hung highly-colored framed Chinese votive tablets commending the 
skill of some German surgeon, announcing in calligraphy or even 
embroidery, for example, how "Spring has returned at the touch of his 
Wonderful Hands." 

The German nursing sisters were dignified women. Their spacious 
tiled pharmacy, their white-curtained hospital beds, their very em- 
broidered sofa cushions or well-laundered tray cloths, all set and 
kept high quite different standards from those of the Chinese about 
them. Many-colored petunias throve in their window boxes; delicious 
small spiced cakes arrived with the afternoon coffee. 

A war lord could rent a suite of hospital rooms here, if he wished 
to retire for a temporary illness; and then delicately painted concubines, 
perhaps in garish satin tubular gowns recently purchased in Shanghai, 
caused no flurry whatever if they shuffled past on their small feet in 
the broad cool-paved green corridors. It was even rumored that if a 
patient were accustomed to his daily pipe of opium, this too was con* 
ceded. Yet the German Christmas music sung each year in these 
echoing halls was the best that I ever heard in Peking. 

To return to the lordly embassies, the crown of all was of course 
that occupied by the British. The dinners there, if not the most interest- 



78 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

ing gastronomically, were the most formal and of course the best 
served. The very lion and unicorn on the impeccable gilt-edged Bristol 
of the place cards guaranteed this. The buildings themselves were 
nondescript, and the general plan of the irregular large "compound" 
methodless. Yet there were well-maintained and comfortable small 
houses, glossily painted, with small parlors and small stairs, tiled 
hearths and much chintz, good books and cheerful fires, rear gardens 
and stables, all clustered about the ambassador's much larger resi- 
dence. There was daily also a miniature changing of the guard, with 
British sentries wearing thick hobnailed boots looking properly 
wooden as they stood motionless before their sentry boxes at the main 
gate. 

At the French Embassy, the cipher "RF" for Republique Frangaise 
was placed over a large archway in late and poor neo-classical style, 
much like the entrance to some "modern hotel" de luxe in a French 
watering place. There always seemed more glassed-in galleries and 
echoing passageways here than elsewhere; and one soon became 
conscious of the click of foreign heels on French parquet. The rooms 
to which one came for business had French telephones; they rang with 
French vivacity, French logic, French interruptions. 

The Germans had in their time possessed a little Germany, baroni- 
ally heavy in style; the Dutch lived in commodious red brick houses 
with white marble trim, everything quite as well scrubbed as was to 
be expected; and the Belgians had reproduced for themselves a tawny 
brick villa with the high steep-pitched roofs of medieval Flanders, 
ornamented with elaborate wrought ironwork. This, we were told, 
was a replica of one that old Kong Leopold formerly had presented 
to the beautiful Cleo de Merode. 

Its example meant little, of course, to the Italians, whose broad and 
flat-topped regular facades were corniced, rosy, and serene. A hand- 
some campanile soared above their chapel, transported from other 
skies. The Spanish, less wealthy, had suspended a large gilt shield, 
flanked with the columns of Hercules and bearing the device "Nee 
Plus Ultra," in the center of a conventional Chinese gate with crimson 
doors and lacquer columns, leading inward toward their temporary 
Spain; and in the main bathroom of one Latin-American house I 



Peking: The Grand Design 79 

remember an almost life-sized crucifix, realistically modeled and col- 
ored, sharing one wall with an expensive American bath scale. 

White Russians, in my time, inhabited the ex-Austrian Legation, 
dragging out miserable but dignified ends to ruined existences in 
suites of high-ceilinged rooms heated with glazed porcelain stoves of 
delicate cream color, which might have come straight from Schon- 
brunn. In the echoing marble entrance hall below, tablets incised in 
Latin told him who might stop to puzzle out their sense, vague facts 
about Franciscus Josephus, Rex et Imperator. In one side court, much 
overgrown, a Baltic baron, now immersed in Buddhistic studies, once 
showed me a diagonally striped sentry box, ci-devant imperial, straight 
as if from a toy opera, assuring me solemnly that it was the last of its 
kind in the world. 

The well-heated, large-windowed American buildings took up much 
space. They included service buildings with dynamos, a tall radio 
mast, a large drill ground, and well-installed barracks for our Marines, 
as well as an indoor basketball court that once did duty as a buzzing 
courtroom when an American judge on circuit came to Peking 'for the 
trial of some local cause cefebre. The Ambassador's residence was not 
pretentious, but ample and comfortable, with a portrait of Washing- 
ton and also a frequently chiming grandfather's clock in its large 
green-carpeted central hall. 

Rumor had it that in planning the houses of the lesser Secretaries 
of Embassy, a harassed government architect had in his difficulties 
simply sent out working drawings of local American post offices, 
which were then reproduced in detail here under the Tartar City 
walls. One could trace where mailbags might be hauled in at side 
entrances, and where grilles and counters could be installed, if this 
were ever required. The tale must surely have been an invention; but 
the facts fitted. 

Entertainment in the various houses belonging to the American staff 
became under constantly changing -personnel much what it would 
haVe been in their different local worlds at home. Annually on the 
Fourth of July, however, converging in rickshas from all quarters of 
the city, surprising numbers of the patriotic faithful ranging from 



80 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

lean and serious up-country missionaries to thick-set plethoric tobacco 
or oil salesmen would foregather at the Embassy. This was the 
holiday of the year for a general turnout. Heavily laden tables of re- 
freshment were set out on the lawn, there was lavish ice cream with 
many sweet cakes; and the Marine brass band, in dress uniform, 
played through the heat of the long afternoon, heaving up one patri- 
otic song after another, in slowest tempo. My servants used to see 
me provided with a specially stiff starched white suit, and then stand 
approvingly to watch me off at the door, in a hired ricksha, on my way 
to this ceremony. 

The local banks, whether American or European, were most catholic 
in their arrangements for celebration. They all closed not only on 
both the Fourth and the Fourteenth o July, and indiff erently too for 
the birthdays of the British King, Confucius and Sun Yat-Sen, or 
even the Emperor of Japan, but also on May Day (for the modern 
Germans), and above all on the important sporting "fixture dates" 
bye-days, the gymkhana, and of course all the horse races, at Pao Ma 
Ch'ang. 

Grouped about all these disparate buildings was a collection of small 
shops. Here were the imported materials from which foreign life of 
Peking was made. The coiffeur's salon was tended by White Russians; 
I remember once seeing icons and many lighted candles through a 
rear door that was ajar. My friend, the old-timer Italian wine merchant, 
was prosperous and paunchy; he also had a large family of half- 
Chinese children. The cleanly serious photographer came from Ger- 
many* His superior shop was large and orderly. Work was accurately 
done; and his assistants addressed him respectfully in very good 
Chinese-German. At the tailor's, invisible native workmen using 
British thread if one had remembered to specify it stitched Scotch 
tweeds for the sports jackets to be adjusted by the polite and talkative 
English fitter. A complacent and slow-moving French marchand de 
comestibles would calmly sell you haricots verts en conserve, in small 
tins with brass labels, or else great blocks of savon de Marseille with 
the true Castile smell. 

So it went; in each embassy one ate the cheese, one drank the 



Peking: The Grand Design 81 

wines, of that country and no other. The table silver, the linens, even 
the flower vases, all were from across the seas. Those who lived in 
"the Diplomatic,*' with notable but uncommon exceptions, would 
eventually decide to buy fairly dull and expensive porcelains, or to 
acquire garish Mandarin robes, which they condemned to the oddest 
uses; or they would have Georgian tea services "reproduced" outside 
the Ch'ien Men, since this was considered an "economy." Much of such 
dull loot eventually went back, I suppose, to overfurnished European 
flats, or else on to further international posts. China, to them, was 
not in any way what it had become to me. 

It was necessary, however, to make an adjustment with this world, 
which wanted me for its dinner parties, in part, I fancy, simply be- 
cause by education I was obviously a convenient gramophone for use 
with multilingual records. Compromise was uneasy, especially by the 
time I was attending classes in the university, and obligated to appear 
there early each morning and sitting on a hard wooden bench in a 
Chinese gown to listen perhaps to comment on the structure of early 
Buddhist society. The two worlds obviously did not mix. 

Once, in replying to the repeated invitations of an importunate 
hostess, I was sorely tempted to send her merely the trousers to my 
dinner suit wrapped in fresh tissue paper, in a neat Vuitton suitcase 
instead of an answer increasingly difficult to word. My visiting card 
could so easily have been placed on top, merely inscribed, "I knew you 
wanted these!" Yet I thought better of the dubious prank: Peking 
quarrels could easily become violent, and it seemed better to avoid a 
stupid entrance to one, the more so because by this time I was already 
remote in spirit, journeying happily in better lands by far than those 
of diplomatic entertaining. 

I was given the name of "The Oyster" for such behavior; yet I knew 
the pearl of price that I must not thoughtlessly divulge and this 
nickname did fortunately discourage assault by repetition. I fear, there- 
fore, that I am no source of information for the major dinners of 
Peking. 



CHAPTER vi The Face of the Capital 



THOSE in the Legation Quarter who lived in foreign-style houses 
may have had the benefit o sash windows and of laid floors, of 
plastered walls and even radiators for steam heat, yet they missed much. 
If such dwellings, moreover, were the property of their own govern- 
ments which they themselves served, their lives moved as in another 
sphere. In these asphalted streets the multitudinous sights and sounds 
of the old capital did not exist. Trees were planted along their well- 
swept borders as in some model European city; and local peddlers and 
hawkers were excluded by special police guarding the entrance barriers. 
The clangor, the vocif erousness, the energy of the cheerful and roister- 
ing proletariat were here replaced by something restricted. As a mixture 
it was not alluring. 

How different things were in the Wax Storehouse! Here activity 
was unceasing from before dawn until late at night; the sheer con- 
tinuity of it rang in my ears. Here was argument, laughter, anger, 
noisy quarreling every emotion constantly finding its expression. I 
was immersed in the life of my own neighborhood, of my own alley. 
Next door, a young bride, dressed in red like a little idol, might 
mount her embroidered sedan chair, moved to uncontrollable tears in 
the last moment of parting from her family. Or a prolonged funeral 
over the wall would make us much aware of Buddhist ritual, with 
prayers and chanting through many nights, and routine family wail- 
ings during sacrifice times. 

82 



The Face of the Capital 83 

I learned much about Chinese ideals of filial piety and family senti- 
mentfrom the doings of neighbors represented to me by my servants 
as all that these were not. On one occasion I even saw a woman wild 
with indignation "curse the public thoroughfare" as the phrase went, to 
tell the world with all the energy in her lungs how insupportable had 
become her circumstances. This was an extreme measure. Yet perspec- 
tives of local existence from birth to death became familiar to me in 
many variants during the succeeding years. Finally I could deduce, 
from my eyes and ears alone, much that cannot be understood until 
one has lived long as an inhabitant of one of those curious islands, a 
small neighborhood within a great metropolis. 

My dwelling was in the region of the Imperial City called Within 
the Rear Gate far indeed from the diplomatic quarter or those side 
streets in the eastern part of the Tartar City popular among West- 
erners, where foreign-style houses rose above Chinese walls. The Rear 
Gate itself was on the central axis. Through it passed a broad boule- 
vard leading south to the rose-walled, cypress-planted enclosure where 
dead emperors formerly lay in state after they had been borne for the 
last time from the adjoining Forbidden City. 

From this artery, a lateral opening called the Gate of the Yellow 
Flowers, or else the Decorated Yellow Gate (both translations fit), 
led into a maze of smaller lanes, which often were as crooked as the 
great avenues were straight. Here were the Porcelain Storehouse, the 
Awning Storehouse, and others, and also my own Wax Storehouse; all 
once used for provisioning the imperial palace. Entering these lanes, 
one progressed between blind walls, turning many corners. The un- 
pretentious shops were small, often not more than open counters, with 
a room behind them stocked with goods for local needs. 

Only when I had lived in Peking for some time did I realize how 
my servants divided shopping in general. The most superior manner 
of purchase, the most intelligent as well as most face-conferring, was 
the private display of articles not shown in a shop at all. They were 
brought to the house on appointment by a merchant who usually 
came with an assistant, his wares wrapped in the large blue cloth 
bundles, or pao-fu, that one so often saw in the streets. In the old days, 



84 THE YEARS THAT WERE BAT 

when women did not leave their houses to make purchases, this was 
the manner in which silks and satins were submitted to the lady of 
a household. Even in my time, antiques, pictures mounted as scrolls 
and other precious articles were generally sold in this way. 

The merchant, or several rival merchants, all familiar with each 
other, would wait patiently in the kitchen until the master's pleasure 
was announced. In palaces, special side-rooms near the front gate were 
set aside for this purpose. They were then ushered into one of the 
larger living rooms, where they artfully spread out their wares, always 
saving the best, of course, until the last. 

Everything was done with leisure. What was to be considered for 
acquisition was discussed casually and finally set apart. Purchase was 
seldom made on the spot, and I do not believe that the merchants, 
actually liked this: it invisibly robbed them of their standing. So 
while desire and price were still only sketchily defined, objects 
were inspected, and the buyer could reflect on them in what might be 
their ultimate setting. Such a system kept the "silver man," or the 
"bead man," or the embroidery or silk merchant, continually on the 
road; but it also presented insidious temptation to purchasers. In 
the course of a year fairly large amounts changed hands in this way. 
The most agreeable form of purchase that I have ever known was 
a generous show of this kind, or even a double one, after lunch, with 
surprises perhaps already hopefully installed to await the moment 
when a group of people, guests together and in good humor, would 
come from the table. 

There were in Peking, however, plenty of superior public shops 
selling only a single commodity or article. Wen-Pin and Hsu Jung 
knew the names of the best, as if they were on some Chinese 
equivalent of Bond Street or the rue de la Paix. In such shops could 
be bought the best fur hats for winter, of expensive otter skin, or neat 
white-soled black cloth slippers, or lanterns, or fans, or drugs or tea; 
each carried goods of quality only. Competitors might be clustered 
along a single street; thus we knew of Lantern Street, Jade Street, 
Brass Street, and of big and little Furniture Street. Above all there 
was the Liu-li Ch'ang, the old glass works, long ago deserted by the 
glass blowers, but taken over by the best antiquaries and booksellers 
in the city. These were shops for men of education only. 



The Face of the Capital 85 

The larger and more general store, especially for modern silks and 
other fabrics, had come to exist even in Peking; but it remained a 
not too well-assimilated newcomer. It never had anything of the solid 
quality of a dignified old Chinese tea shop, for instance, reputed 
with justice for its varieties of dried leaves in great canisters, with 
fresh jasmine or dried chrysanthemum flowers to be added to them. 
Some of the best tea shops had elaborately carved fagades and fine old- 
fashioned interiors. One was first seated on a stool at a large lacquer 
table; and preliminary talk with the long-gowned and venerable pro- 
prietor, attended by a bevy of younger assistants, had to be unhurried 
if one were not to be considered uncouth. Finally, some sample or 
other of the tea recommended was brewed, so that one might try it 
at leisure before making one's choice. 

My servants knew perfectly which shop by reputation produced 
the best hemispherical black satin men's hats; which one made the 
most prized thick-soled boots, also of black satin, of a model such 
as formerly had been used at court. From time to time the Elder Born 
also told me tales of lavish buying by the grands seigneurs, in the time 
of the princes (when his own family had been prosperous); and of 
happy inventions even if only a clever technique to slice mutton 
wafer-thin, for the popular Mohammedan restaurants that had made 
a sudden reputation, as well as a fortune, for some humble shop- 
keeper. 

Auspicious shop names, usually of three characters each, with in- 
volved meanings stating that they were "ever flourishing" or "broadly 
ample" were legion; but the best known became for me as for every- 
one locally merely syllables run off the tongue, pronounced unthink- 
ingly as are familiar shop names in any large city. 

The best-known establishments were managed with as confident 
an air as were even superior restaurants where high officials were 
accustomed to congregate daily. In any good shop it was unthinkable 
not to be asked to be seated, while a young apprentice first brought 
tea. Upon my return to the West I found that unconsciously I had 
become so accustomed to this amenity that the lack of it struck me 
forcibly. 

Good shopping in China, though, involved much else besides tea 
drinking. There were many conventions, a number of formulae to be 



86 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

mastered; but the best wares were never shown to hasty barbarians, 
and if observing custom took time, everyone of consequence had that\ 
Visiting shops was perhaps not the richest man's technique for acquisi- 
tion; but the merchants who were proprietors of a long-established 
house were secure in their self-respect. Indeed when they were Philis- 
tines they could at times be comically smug. 

All such shopping was far above the local level. With a few ex- 
ceptions at the Rear Gate, our small examples near the Wax Store- 
house were much more like mere provision counters, to which one 
could run for a candle or a dipper of sesamum oil, for a farthing's 
worth of pepper or of mustard. Even more immediate was purchase 
from the armies of hawkers and peddlers, shouting themselves hoarse 
so that their voices would penetrate into even the most secluded court- 
yards. Here I had to acquire a new pair of ears to understand what 
my servants heard unconsciously. Wen-Pin would suddenly appear, 
to ask if perhaps I wanted to buy some of the large fresh shrimps or 
new flowering plants that had just gone by my door. Or Hsu Jung 
would arrive to ask: "Would K'e the Elder Born [my Chinese name 
and form of address] enjoy an almanac or calendar like those we 
ourselves have recently bought?" We could call the peddler back. 
Did I not hear him, at that very moment, still only leaving my lane? 

There were proper times of day for the offering of certain mer- 
chandise. It was only after a number of years that I learned by chance 
that chamber pots were never to be sold in the daylight. To have 
hawked them thus would have been shamelessly unfitting. So one had 
to know their cry, and also that their vendor came only by night. 

For the many who rose early, there were special hot potations sold 
at daybreak. One in particular that I much Uked was called almond 
tea; although it really had nothing in common with ordinary tea and 
was much more like a very hot liquid cornstarch pudding with a fresh 
almond flavoring. In the frost of a winter morning in Peking, when 
the wind blew frozenly as if straight from the fastness of Central 
Asia, this would begin the day as did nothing else. There were also 
newly fried dough-ringsblown up like fommes soufflSescudmg 
apid blistery as they arrived crisp from the iron cauldron; or round 



The Face of the Capital 87 

wheaten cakes, tasting doughy because still hot, their browned tops 
covered with crumbly sesamum seeds. I learned many cries for the 
good things to be eaten as the day began, winter and summer; and it 
made early rising, for study, something of a pleasant conspiracy. 

Then would begin the morning roar of Peking. One could listen for 
it, as for the roar of a distant lion. The din was greater than is easily 
described; for once the morning fires had been lighted in this unin- 
dustrialized city of a million and a half, everywhere near and far there 
began bargaining and buying, hawking and vending all at once. It 
was a cacophony, a pandemonium, that had no counterpart in Europe, 
even in the noisiest southern marketplace. In China the tone is much 
more sonorous, the calls more singing, more prolonged. It would swell 
to a great chorus of rhythmic metropolitan altercation, with every 
soloist vocal in his turn. Kindling, or cabbages, garlic and leeks, each 
had its own motif; each had its special praises lifted insistently for a 
moment above the continuing background of sound. 

What in China do the millions who are the poor purchase from the 
poor? How does one manage busines with no capital? An early start 
is made from the country with fresh vegetables, let us say; sturdy legs 
bring them within the walls at a smart pace, in springing baskets 
suspended from the inevitable carrying pole. Trade is on immediately! 
He who sells first walks laden least far. Yet if he sells too cheap, 
when the day is done his coppers will be few. It was touching some- 
times to come across a peddler resting because he was obviously weary, 
or to hear fatigue in some anxious voice, cracking a little as the hours 
drew on. The desire to outshout, to sell rapidly, made the clamor only 
more vociferous. 

Every edible product, every small necessary, had its peculiar cry, 
delivered with an intonation like no other. That for fresh persimmons 
was one thing; that for needles and skeins of thread completely differ- 
ent. There were also ingenious small instruments to produce odd pene- 
trating noises, and thus help in the differentiation. At times the effects 
strikingly resembled modern music. Small drums on sticks were beaten 
with weights attached to strings, which twirled to hit their double 
membranes a smart blow and then reversed to strike again. The 



88 THE Y^.RS THAT WERE FAT 

barber twanged a giant tuning fork of unusual penetrating power. 
There were wooden clappers, trumpets of many varieties, heavy clang- 
ing plates of jointed metal for the tinker or the knife grinder. At times 
the sound swelled to make a canon, or a round of many parts, moving, 
crossing and recrossing, distant and near. 

The clamor was at first distracting. Although I never became quite 
so oblivious to it as were my servants, yet the day came when I, too, 
could be quite unconscious of any of the varied sounds continuing to 
float about me. And yet as some delectable sweetmeat came by, candied 
translucent grapes impaled on slender sticks, or walnuts alternating 
with tiny crab apples, glaceed in sugar, at that moment my ear would 
pick up the sound, and I would send a servant to the gate. 

Late in the tranquil nights of summer, one vendor with a broad 
barrow would often station himself nearby in my lane. He sold a 
number of cooling drinks, the best of which I thought was cold boiled 
prune juice, with some of the prune left floating in it icy, tart, thirst- 
slaking, and with a remarkably satisfying bitter aftertaste. This peddler 
jingled in his palm two small brass bowls, one inside the other. The 
sound, kept up for hours, through association infallibly ended by mak- 
ing me thirsty. So I might send for something from one of his large 
porcelain jars. On their carts, these men used good, indeed occasionally 
excellent, porcelain, always badly damaged but stoutly riveted together 
again, to make a good show. 

Such buying and selling was in terms of merely a few coppers. 
There was always a little argument first, some chaffer; but the con- 
clusion generally came promptly. The poor, I observed, had constantly 
to recalculate their purchasing power, in the face of such hourly 
temptations. Yet they often indulged themselves with a ha'penny 
worth of some litde delicacy or other; and this must have helped to 
compensate for a diet in general monotonous, except during fresh 
vegetable season in the spring, which everyone publicly enjoyed. 

As I reflect on the good-natured' bargaining and the interest with 
which all this went on, the warm sounds of North Chinese voices 
come floating again to my ears. Even here, the traditional good manners 
of the capital, of a civilized people, were observed. As vendor and 
buyer stood in the lane, a ricksha boy might wish to pass by, progress- 



The Face of the Capital 89 

ing rapidly. He would shout ahead, "Draw to the side, draw to the 
side!" or else, "Lend me light, lend me light!*' (by removing yourself 
from* my path), with proper politeness, to give adequate warning. 
All things could be done nicely, was the unspoken premise; and such 
human needs are always simple enough to be sensed promptly. 

Even in the deepest courtyards, in the grandest houses, the sounds 
of the world outside were never completely hushed. But in such 
places they became, as it were, a motif familiar in another part of the 
symphony, vibrant elsewhere but here repeated pianissimo, to enrich 
a further melody in a changed and beautiful setting. 

There were also the shows of the street, the ever-changing spectacle 
of the great city. Here, too, I had to learn what I was seeing; some 
explanation beyond what met the eye was essential. At funerals, for 
instance, the chief mourner, dressed in unhemmed and unbleached 
coarse white stuff to show how grief had abased him his long wand 
in hand, headed a procession in front of the catafalque. He cus- 
tomarily stopped briefly at several, or even at quite a number of 
places along the route, where an unsteady table with crockery for tea 
had been set up, often hastily and only a few minutes before. There 
followed mutual bowing, prostration on a mat casually flung out for 
him; the cups were drained and the procession resumed. What pre- 
cisely did this mean? 

At grander funerals it all came clear. The friends of the dead man, 
being civilized, were concerned to offer refreshment to his mourners 
on their sorrowful journey. The best ch'a p'fag, or tea sheds, for this 
purpose were still of matting, to be sure, but they had elaborate roof 
ornaments simulating those on temples, and the furnishings within 
might include large altar sets of heavy cloisonne, rented for the 
occasion. Here the ceremonies proceeded with decorum. Yet if sub- 
sequently one saw the mourners of a humble funeral stopping at 
several merchants' door fronts, arid small tables whisked into place 
with only a few minutes to spare, later to be just as promptly removed 
again, one now knew the reason. 

Funerals and weddings, of course, were the great public shows. My 
servants followed both, indiflb-endy, with unflagging interest. The 



90 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

bellowing of the deep horns and the almost continuous thunder o 
the drums were so alike that Wen-Pin or Hsu Jung were themselves 
occasionally uncertain, and would have to run out to make sure. For 
funerals, the fact of importance was the number of bearers of the 
catafalque* They came in multiples of eight, such as sixteens, thirty- 
twos, or the very grand sixty-four. It took this number of men to sup- 
port the red-lacquered poles, with their crossbeams, under the heavy 
framework. When sixty-four bearers were used, yoked to some great 
swaying superstructure, people often left their work for a little and 
went to look on. 

Nothing so large as this biggest catafalque, with embroidered satin 
curtains swinging from its lofty curving roof, would fit into a small 
lane. The accommodating entrepreneurs, however, had a remedy for 
this. On the day of the funeral, or even one or two earlier, two cata- 
falques would be sent to the family patronizing them. The first, or 
great one, was delivered to some open spot near the dead man's house, 
where it was set down empty on scarlet lacquered wooden horses, to 
be admired for its stateliness by the neighbors. Then a smaller one 
went up the lane; and the funeral would begin with concerted 
violent weeping among the mourners by the respectful transfer to 
it of the coffin of the deceased, through his own doorway. The further 
change, and the formation of the larger procession, occurred in full 
view of the town. So relatives were not debarred from offering this 
posthumous satisfaction even to those who lived within "little gates." 

Some of the largest funeral processions stretched literally over 
several miles. I remember a monstrous one that brought the whole 
traffic of Peking to a standstill for the better part of a morning, with 
a catafalque so high that the electric trolley lines had to be propped 
up to let it through. A war lord, distinguished also for his patronage 
of culture, was being buried. 

"To him who hath," in such cases, were also now given many 
further gifts. They were of paper, to be sure, and made only to be 
burnt; but they still might help a former patron or friend to enjoy a 
foreign motor car or a brass bed or even in these latter days, his own 
radio cabinet as soon as they caught up with him in the spirit world 
after becoming invisible in die flames. 



The Face of the Capital 91 

One of the most interesting processions that I ever saw was for the 
obsequies of an old prince. It was in completely old-fashioned style; 
and one day I unexpectedly found it marching along in an out-of-the- 
way part of town. Besides the usual paper models, there had also been 
included for this aristocrat the whole panoply of what seemed to me 
completely medieval hunting. Only this, for some obscure reason, was 
real. There were camels with folded tents lashed to their backs; there 
were several falcons, hooded, on the wrists of marching falconers; 
there were even a few very thin hunting dogs, all passing in pro- 
cession. 

The Chinese delight in such a show. It usually was headed by a 
professional major domo who knew how to keep moving, or how to 
stop, the whole unwieldy train behind him. The signaling was com- 
plicated. With him also went men beaming large banners, on which 
were two great characters reading K'AI TAO or "open the road." The 
regalia that followed rented of course was of gilded lacquer, showy 
and effective, including pairs of arresting symbols such as upright 
human bands, mounted on high poles. These were invariably borne 
by poor devils, or remarkably dirty and ragged urchins, dressed in 
flapping funeral livery of blue or green coarse cloth picked out with 
large white disks. They were eventually paid a few coppers for their 
ratter disorderly participation; and they were known in general to 
be a nuisance. 

Preceding the coffin walked the company of male mourners, the 
chief of them usually pale from much night watching and ceremonial 
kowtowing. At the rear followed a string of rented glass coaches, 
horse drawn "foreign-style" vehicles, bearing the female mourners, 
also in unhemmed clothes and with curious thickly platted headbands 
of the same coarse white stuff. These women were usually rocking 
with grief and weeping loudly. It was of course in part a customary 
demonstration, but in part it was uncontrolled sorrow. Funerals 
always achieved this perplexing mixture of worldly display com- 
bined with unrepressed emotion. 

Wedding processions gave a somewhat similar effect, although on 
the whole they were less elaborate. They also could set up a curious 
intensity of emotion in the spectator, with the constant blaring of 



92 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

trumpets and the dinning rumble of the drums. One never saw the 
bride, since the embroidered curtains of the phoenix chair hers for 
that single day of her life were always tightly closed (and everyone 
wondered how she felt inside). Certain female relatives of maturer 
years in charge of matters, however, were customarily carried home 
from the ceremonies, later in the day, in chairs that were partly open 
in front. Their uncovered glossy hair was invariably dressed with 
precision; they were in their immaculate best silks; and everyone 
looked on, realizing that they had been upon serious business. 

After I had been invited to a few weddings, I learned what hap- 
pened indoors. It was long and complicated. The bride, that very day 
presented for the first time to her husband, was always unbelievably 
modest and respectful. Tradition demanded that she keep her head 
down, from humility, when spoken to; but she usually let it droop, 
literally, under its elaborate phoenix headdress. These days the head- 
dress is usually of chemically dyed crimson chenille, an intense color, 
cheaply trimmed with glass pearls. In all her finery, the bride makes 
herself as self-effacing as possible. I never saw one who did not seem 
painfully weary from fullness of emotion. 

In my lane, I heard of course constant talk of weddings and of 
matchmaking in general. Criticisms of suitability, and blunt and un- 
abashed curiosity about the outcome, were perennial matters for 
gossip. A wedding, like a funeral, was definitely one of life's "big 
affairs," as the Chinese classify them; and other people's destinies 
always made good material by which to appraise one's own. Was not 
traditional Chinese marriage, further, the most hazardous gamble of 
all even to a people deeply fond of gambling? 

The street, however, had more to offer than these major shows, 
surviving so little altered from the traditional past. There were smaller 
processions too. The bride's gifts, for example, were usually carried 
openly to her future home a day or two before she herself was borne 
there. Among the wealthy this was often made an opportunity for a 
very pretty public display. Lacquer-framed vitrines, like glass coffins 
in a fairy tale, held all the new finery; everything in pairs when 
possible, and arranged to show to advantage as it went through the 



The Face of the Capital 93 

streets. Porcelain ornaments usually followed the silks and satins; and 
the larger objects, cupboards and beds, tables and chairs, all the 
installation of the future household, also walked along, on porters' legs, 
drawing up the rear. 

Or some grateful patient, attributing his recovery from an illness 
to the skill of his Chinese doctor, would present a laudatory inscription, 
usually of four large characters carved or painted on a large oblong 
board, to add to a collection probably already suspended outside the 
latter's gate. Certain doctors had so many that they must have con- 
trived to make the process cumulative; they were compared to famous 
healers of old, even to sages and immortals. What "face" this gave! 
Perhaps one would hear a merry jingling in the distance, and soon 
large tiered food boxes, many layers high, would also appear borne 
springily along. The presentation would therefore, we knew, include 
a banquet. By tradition little flags and bells were attached to these 
boxes, to express with what joy the feast they contained was offered. 
The whole paraphernalia was customarily rented. 

I came too late, of course, to see the Manchu Bannermen, in 
brocade coats simulating more virile armor, or any of the imperial 
archers; and I only heard tales of the Emperor's processions, when 
the whole length of the route had first carefully to be sanded in 
imperial yellow. Yet since the Eastern and the Western tombs 
where lay the sepulchers of the' last reigning house were several 
days' journey afoot from the capital, one can imagine the scale of 
preparations for an imperial funeral. An aging missionary friend had 
as a boy stood on a hill near the neighboring city of T'ung-chou to 
watch one of the last of these, which he described to me. Every 
dignitary in the land who could possibly manage it was in the select 
company immediately accompanying the catafalque. They must have 
constituted a portrait group of tie highest ministers of state, as they 
walked slowly along. 

Emperors who lived to old age also had great birthday celebrations. 
Occasionally, on the grandest of these such as a sixtieth which com- 
pletes a full cycle, as Chinese time is reckoned they might be borne 
in a partly open chair for a part of a journey, perhaps from the Sum- 
mer to the Winter Palace. Since everyone had nevertheless to touch 



94 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

his head to the ground as the procession passed, this cannot have 
afforded the population a prolonged view. 

In one of the halls of the Forbidden City I used often to examine 
several giant scrolls, each many yards in length, representing such 
festivities. On them were shown in detail the booths and platforms 
erected for plays and other public shows, each contributed by some 
local guild, or by various provinces and cities throughout the Empire. 
None of this, of course, would ever occur again. 

Yet I just managed to catch the last vestiges of princely scale, first 
in a three-day birthday party, complete with elaborate threatricals, 
for the venerated mother of a deeply filial prince of the imperial 
house; and later at her funeral, for which, although already more than 
half ruined, her son determined to provide every satisfaction in the 
next world that a Chinese funeral can give. On this occasion, the 
same private theater that had served for the earlier one was transformed 
into a mortuary chapel. While waiting for a first procession to leave 
the palace, bearing a great paper spirit boat to be burned at a cross- 
roadsa ceremony to which a number of foreigners had been invited 
we sat drinking tea at the very same tables that had earlier served for 
the more cheerful festival. Thus I knew at least a little how some of 
these larger shows must once have been managed. 

There were other ceremonies that one also was never to see again: 
for instance, the return from early morning audiences in the For- 
bidden City, customarily held before dawn. At that hour, my Elder 
Born explained to me, it was obvious that men's minds were at their 
keenest, just awakened from sleep, to take counsel on affairs of state. 
This was the fitting time for audience; did I not feel it within myself? 
Each courtier had a bodyservant, a ^n^pan-ti y who waited at the 
palace gates. Master and man both were mounted; and as they rode 
away from the palace, and the sun rose, the master customarily 
divested himself of his long necklace of court beads and his topmost 
layers of clothing. These were literally thrown to the Itfn-pan-ti, riding 
after him, and they had to be properly caught. The servant first ex- 
tended his arm to catch the beads; the clothes were next taken over, 
and even folded as the ride continued. Thus the whole became a dis- 



The Face of the Capital 95 

play of pride and insouciance on the one hand, and of skill on the 
other. 

It was not easy to imagine the brilliance and dignity of the old 
reunions, I was told, with everyone apparelled in fine stuffs, in 
brocades and satins, or in summer in fine gauzes, with embroidered 
hems of rainbow colors. I have seen Mongols so dressed, riding their 
ponies over the high plains; and the effect was that of a magnificently 
illustrated storybook come to life. How much the modern world has 
lost by choosing dull black for formal male costume! 

At the season of the Chinese New Year, one could occasionally see 
venerable Peking conservatives, making their rounds of calls, still 
wearing old-fashioned clothing. Its rich color showed how the major 
notes had once been struck. What must it have been, though, when the 
groupings were not of individuals only, but of hundreds? It was 
always told to me further that the Manchu aristocracy traditionally 
dressed with the greatest care and neatness; and that they particularly 
prided themselves on the colored sashes of rank that could be worn , 
by them alone. 

There was one convention about the use of color that even in my 
time had not fallen into neglect: the young usually wore the brightest, 
the old the softest and most muted shades. Little babies were given 
brilliant quilted coats, often made with a hundred different pieces of 
silk all begged from neighbors to deceive the jealous spirits into 
making errors of mistaken identity. Small children, carried like idols on 
the arms of proud parents, would also be bundled into little capes of 
vivid scarlet or vibrant green, with a whole collection of gold repousst 
images on their small headdresses. The old, on the contrary, wore 
shades of dull blue, or dark plum color, or dim grays like the estuary 
of a river in a fog. For them, these were considered fitting, dignity 
matching dignity, in their final years. 

I have seen old gentlemen riding silently in glass-paned coaches, a 
footman leaping down from behind to guide the horses round a 
corner, who were living examples of what seventy or eighty years of 
the old-fashioned discipline finally could do, in China, to the human 
frame. They might be bowed with the years, shrunken even, but 
majesty dwelt consciously upon their. white heads. They invariably 



g6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

wore such colors as darkest green, the browns and grays o tree bark, 
or dull steel, or else a quite indefinable purple-blue-black; relieving the 
simple cut of their gowns usually with a single idiosyncratic touch, as 
for example in summer a fan made of eagle's feathers, with perhaps a 
crystal pendant swinging from its spotted bamboo handle, or a 
spectacle case of green sharkskin or of black satin embroidered with 
metal thread. 

I have never seen old age more grandly self-respecting, or more 
self-justifying. The modern Westerner loses enormously by not com- 
prehending what high ranges, both of appearance and conduct, are 
accessible to those who have actually cultivated their later years. This 
single mistake, and the consequent mismanagement of all our pos- 
sibilities from middle age onward, puts us worlds apart from those 
Chinese within the traditional system. We wax happily, but wane 
with ineptitude. The last part of life we tend to abandon even to 
despair, whereas for the Chinese it is a summit, for the very reason 
that it has been built by human wisdom alone upon a notoriously 
fragile and transitory base. 

These hard-won honors of longevity could not be assumed too lightly 
by anyone without severe censure. My servants would quickly com- 
ment if a man only in his forties began to cultivate his beard. "It is 
not fitting for So-and-So," they would say, "to stop being clean- 
shaven, and to affect drooping whiskers, when the time for these has 
not yet arrived!" 

The city's show never ceased. Sometimes there would appear in the 
streets country people in mule drawn, slow-moving, two-wheeled 
"Peking carts.'* These had once been quite ordinary vehicles; but the 
fashion had passed, and they were now used only by prosperous and 
conservative provincial folk. The stout framework of such a cart was 
in general heavily ornamented with metal bosses; and its small square 
of flooring might be covered with several layers of thick-piled carpet, 
woven to size, to make sitting cross-legged within more comfortable. 
(Even at that Peking carts almost jolted the breath out of one's lungs; 
I know it because in the country I have used them.) Cloth awnings 
were made fast to the long shafts, and the cloth cover for the arched 
hood of the cart itself often also had elaborate cut-out scroll work 



The Face of the Capital 97 

stitched in contrasting color at the corners. A fitted Peking cart thus 
rolled at one, on its lumbering high wheels, straight as if from the 
Middle Ages. 

These were the anachronistic touches. The modern city moved in 
quite another type of vehicle, the go-cart of late invention, ill- 
balanced on its two rubber-tired wheels, known to the Chinese as a 
j$n-li-ch f e or "man-strength-vehicle." From Japan, where it was 
apparently contrived, we have borrowed a similar word for it, jin- 
ricksha; and then shortened this by docking the first syllable. These 
existed in Peking in every stage of newness or disrepair; they swarmed 
over the city and the adjacent countryside. One saw them polished and 
shining, all of glossy black brass-trimmed lacquer, with perhaps a fat 
merchant being jostled rapidly along "topside," lighted from below 
at night by his own gleaming carriage lamps, pressing a clanging bell 
set in the carpeted floor with his slippered foot to clear the way 
for speedier passage. Or one saw wretched and tottering old men 
who had to walk rather than run, so decrepit were they, dragging 
creaking wrecks unevenly loaded with every conceivable object. 

This use of men as beasts of burden, however, was not so cruel as 
we in the West too readily may assume. I remember how an early 
teacher told me: "A younger puller is always careful, if people are 
riding in pairs, never to outdistance an older partner. Would not this 
be disrespect to old age?" Further, in all my years in Peking, I never 
saw a Chinese peremptorily order a ricksha boy to go faster than the 
pace that he himself had set; although Westerners, always in a hurry, 
occasionally did. Conversation, also, between the Chinese passenger 
and his human motive power was frequent, voluble, and unabashed. 

Yet it was known to be a hard life. The men were often wet through 
from exertion, in rain or snow, at times when they could not change 
clothing. In bad weather, while waiting for fares at corners, they 
crouched miserably on the floor of their vehicles, between the shafts, 
unprotected except for a canvas hood drawn over the seat in back, 
forced to endiie t^&ew ^ e season presented. Also, their coppers 
had to be earned &&;t& pay rent on their vehicles, which they seldom 
owned. Life thus often became an unending and bitter struggle with 
debt. 
v I remember, however, one beautiful spring evening, after a hard 



90 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

winter, when the transparent night sky had taken on an effect o 
finest satin, with a moon scudding between banks o soft fleecy clouds. 
In a quiet open place by a temple wall not far from my gate, spring 
breezes intermittently lifted the tender streamers of a large weeping 
willow. Under its great trunk sat a ricksha boy, whom I wanted to 
hire. He would not pull me, though, and he made it clear. His time 
had come for a mood of reminiscence; winter was over and this 
luxury he would have. Later, when the vendors of night foods would 
tempt him with their clinking brass bowls, and he might feel that a 
steaming portion of hot savory noodles would be worth further effort, 
he would move. At the moment, though, he was at peace with the 
world. He politely and quietly waved me away. 

There were other curiosities upon the street peculiar to a North 
Chinese city. Toplofty camels were our local beasts of burden. It was 
they who delivered our coal, mined not far away. Coal itself, of 
course, had been used by the Chinese for centuries. Marco Polo, in 
recounting his travels, at the end of our thirteenth, has a detailed 
passage expressing his wonder at the "black stones" that the Chinese 
"dig out and burn like firewood." In Peking I learned not to be sur- 
prised to find my whole lane blocked from time to time by a string 
of laden animals, resting solemnly on the ground, having recently 
traveled with their burdens up from the mines* 

In the spring, when their thick coats peeled, the camels became 
repulsively mangy; and as the weather grew warmer, whole trains 
of them, now looking as if they were made of badly scorched leather, 
made for the uplands, where the climate agreed with them better. Yet 
autumn would see them back; and as the days turned cold their good 
camel hair grew in again, reminding us that winter was ahead. Beyond 
the walls it was a common sight to see long lines on the march in 
single file, padding slowly against the horizon like some picture of 
Bible lands. Country merchants who owned them had the gates to 
their farmyards cut broader at the top, so that the laden beasts could 
pass through with their swelling loads high in the air. 

Horses, in this much-used land where grazing was an expensive 
luxury indeed nonexistent in the form we know itwere of course 



The Face of the Capital 99 

much more costly than the more familiar mules and donkeys, and 
they were never used by the people generally. The Mongol ponies that 
we saw in Peking, imported from the uplands, were kept chiefly by 
Westerners for polo, or for exercising on the glacis surrounding the 
Legation Quarter. This, in Chinese eyes, was merely one more un- 
accountable foreign habit, gratuitous and therefore quite foolish 
exertion on the part of the obviously rich. The ponies were small and 
quick, but they betrayed their untutored origins by the bad habit of 
stumbling, on ground unfamiliar to them after their high untrammeled 
pastures. 

It is man himself, however, who in China is the beast of burden. 
The role of the animals has apparently always been subsidiary. The 
cow was neither liked nor easily cared for; where was there pasturage 
for it? Through the breadth of the land it was the scavenger animals, 
pigs and chickens, which fitted best with the native economy. In 
Peking, pigs were sold alive in a thriving market, perhaps half a mile 
from my lane; and on a windless day their prolonged squealing, 
during the market hours, was borne to us from the scene of their 
sorrows. They were often wheeled there trussed up in filthy rickshas, 
slightly too human to be regarded comfortably. Yet, for contrast such 
was China even at that moment an aeolian orchestra of pigeons 
might be wheeling overhead, light bamboo whisdes attached to their 
tails fluting through the air with graceful sound. 

Man made no protest at what seemed to him his place in this 
destined order of things. Those of stouter frame earned their living 
with their bodies, their natural capital. So much of the routine of 
daily living was made of simple muscular labor that it gave a curious 
and quite archaic beauty to the life of the city. The water carriers, 
staggering with heavy barrows along every bumpy lane, were typical. 
They came almost always from Shantung, where men are stocky. A 
broad leather strap attached to the wooden handles of the creaking 
barrow passed over their shoulders; and it required great strength and 
care to keep a laden and sloppy cart from tipping on the uneven 
ground. Courtyards might be paved, this was part of their value in 



100 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Chinese eyes; but the open thoroughfare where men struggled and 
labored was normally of earth and earth only. 

Men also carried all heavy objects, when possible on their heads. 
How often did one see a massive piece of furniture with only a bent 
torso and straining legs beneath it, coining gravely dowxi a street, 
like some monster half cabinet and half man invented by 
Hieronymus Bosch. These porters were never talkative as they waited 
for employment; their livelihood must have schooled them to patience, 
for loads were bulky and progress slow. Yet damage rarely came to 
an article thus transported; and whole households might be transferred 
at will, without packing everything going upon the road in this 
manner. 

There were also familiar artisans, the men whose occupations could 
be told at a glance, if one were acquainted with the tools of their 
trade. The carpenter carried his box of saws; but they were not like 
ours. The tinker came to work in one's own court, arriving to solder 
metals or to rivet porcelain. On his shoulder pole, somewhat like the 
barber, he carried both his work bench and balancing it a small cabinet, 
usually much brass-ornamented and provided with rows of small 
drawers. This he would also sit on when he began to work. 

There were musicians, both seeing and blind, whom one could 
hire to come and deliver ballads within one's own courts. A certain 
cheerful troupe sang them even while dancing on stilts, men taking 
the women's roles, with suggestions of costume. There were trained 
animals, for shows in the lane itself, with a collection to be taken 
from bystanders at the end of the performance. Or one could summon 
them also to one's own court, as an amusement for friends. There were 
trained goats, trained dogs or monkeys, and even trained mice who 
ran up ladders to flag-topped towers, and -then down again. Witty 
speeches to the animals always made up a part of the performance; 
and the simulated dialogues never failed to draw laughter from the 
gaping crowds. 

There was one man who sometimes came to our neighborhood with 
a traveling library of picture books for children. He carried these, 
with a diminutive table as well as tiny stools to go round it, all upon 
his own shoulders. Wherever he set up shop, the children invariably 



The Face of the Capital 101 

gathered. For a penny they could have their books, at which one might 
find them sitting, with much chatter, under some familiar tree not far 
from one's own door. This, though, was a summer amusement only. 

Men made candy figures of spun brown sugar; or they modeled 
wax, or molded other toys, as one looked on. A goose might go by 
imprisoned in a wicker cage, its projecting neck and head dyed deep 
pink, for identification from other flocks in the country ponds whence 
it had come. This meant that a betrothal was going forward. The 
prospective groom, in old-fashioned families, always sent one of these 
birds to his unseen fiancee, to have it express by its cries his own 
longing for the consummation of the match! 

Old men in wide-cut garments would come gravely walking along 
swinging pairs of large circular bird cages in each hand. They were 
taking their favorites for exercise; this, we were told, made their 
song better. They invariably congregated in special tea houses for bird 
fanciers, which were always .thronged. In the open spaces near the 
city walls, falcons were trained to fly aloft for seed flung into the air 
by the spring of a curious demountable bamboo rod, with a little horn 
cup attached to its end. Their talons were so sharp that they were 
allowed to perch only on heavily padded guards on the forearms of 
their owners. 

Then there were the lusty or crippled beggars, all surprisingly 
cheerful; or else women overtaken by some calamity, and burdened 
with their children. The history of their sad case, written in large 
Chinese characters, would be set out on a sheet of dirty paper weighted 
with stones and spread upon the ground before them. One read; and 
left a copper or two. Or there would be the rag woman, usually 
incredibly wispy herself, searching everywhere like a witch for snippets 
of old cloth, which she carted off in a coarse osier basket adjusted 
upon her back, giving poor little boxes of most inferior sulphur 
matches in exchange. This cloth was later soaked and pasted upon 
large boards, layer upon layer, to thicken and dry in the sun and later 
be cut off to make coarse soles for the cheapest grade of slippers. 

Ingenuity, in a thousand ways, made use of everything conceivable. 
Fresh lotus leaves, for instance, in summer commonly served us for 
wrapping food. One might dine in an outlying restaurant, and liking 



102 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the fare, ask to have a sample of some dish to take home. (This was 
often done: what had been ordered belonged to the guest.) Nothing 
was easier than to oblige; and a great pancake of living green leaf, 
gathered in with bright magenta hempen cord, served as a wrapper. 

A striking contrast to this panorama of the profane world was made 
by the priests, either Buddhist or Taoist. Because the cut of their 
clothes was so old-fashioned, and so much ampler than that of even 
ordinary Chinese dress, they always stood out along the street. They 
never seemed to impose any intentional disparagement; but they 
brought with them a sense of another world. The Buddhist gowns 
for street wear were black, and cut like Japanese kimonos at the throat. 
Indeed, centuries before, the latter had been the customary Chinese 
garment, and had been copied in the islands. Taoists wore curious 
hollow hats, their long hair drawn through the brims and gathered into 
topknots kept in place with jade or wooden pins; this was a most 
archaic arrangement. They also generally went about in half-length 
coats, wadded in winter, made up of a number of black and blue 
patches. Many were exceedingly poor, and some wandered perpetually; 
yet for a priest who had been properly ordained there was always the 
assurance of at least three nights' food and shelter, in any monastery the 
length and breadth of China. This was the custom. 

Whether Buddhist or Taoist, these were familiar figures; although 
the Confucianists, as moralists, had no priests. During the Japanese 
occupation, the conquerors brought with them another, proselytizing, 
variety. These were also Buddhist; they went about the streets in 
pairs, wearing curious limp caps of dark pleated cloth, and coats 
shorter than was usual in China. Their thick leg muscles were some- 
how also very Japanese. They tapped ceaselessly on small drums 
making a most hollow, otherworldly, sound. Its measured rhythm 
was insistent: "Come away! Come away! Hence, hence!" again and 
again, it seemed to say. 

The blind, too, moved in a world of their own, never stirring with- 
out constantly striking a gong that easily identified them. So sonorous 
was it that one could hear a blind man through his whole course in a 
neighborhood. There were pathetically many; but this was as nothing, 



The Face of the Capital 103 

my servants said, to what it had been in the old days, when the small- 
pox had raged. "Fate has granted happiness to some; to others this 
destiny!" they explained. The world was made that way. 

I thus began to comprehend, by a thousand sights and sounds, the 
unceasing life of the city. Clothing also gradually revealed many 
shadings; but it took time until I could interpret these correctly. The 
fluttering old-fashioned garters tying in an old man's trousers at the 
ankles, perhaps of cerulean blue to contrast with his dignified black 
silk clothing; or the handkerchief tucked in at the nape of a country 
girl's neck, to keep her pomaded and shiny back-knot from soiling a 
new and carefully -pressed blue cotton-wadded gown: each of such 
details came to suggest a local, finally some familiar circumstance. 
Scraps of sentences, facial expression, also became increasingly intel- 
ligible. The street was speaking its familiar tongue; and as time went 
on I knew that I could understand it. 

It was of course for everybody. When the spectacle was not free 
as formerly when the Emperor moved abroad then looking on was 
specifically, forbidden, at the risk of grave punishment. Otherwise the 
assembly of even a large crowd, actively engaged in remarking upon 
whatever curious sight had collected it, was never in Chinese eyes 
cause for offense. The street, the world, was public property. This 
was the poor man's great show; and also his education. 



CHAPTER vii The Forbidden City 



TN THE center of all this activity, at the focus of the plan, was the 
A incomparable, the majestically "Forbidden" City. Stately walls, ris- 
ing foursquare from a broad surrounding moat, here closed in the 
marvel of all China. Madder rose, a natural soil color, dyed its plaster 
walls a purplish pink; and its roof tiles were glazed in deep imperial 
mustard yellow. Add to this the shimmering foliage of trees in sum- 
mer, or a frosting of glittering snow on the sparkling roofs when 
winter had come, all under the immaculate blue sky of North China, 
and the color scheme is complete. 

We have seen how the Forbidden City was itself the innermost of 
three inscribed rectangles comprising the chief area of Peking. First 
came the giant brick walls of the Tartar City proper. Then, already 
far within, was the enclosure of the Imperial City, once provided with 
complete circuit of its own rose walls, now in great part torn down 
although the entrance gates remain. These were topped with green tile, 
the secondary color. Within this already special reserve was finally 
the palace itself, the "Purple Forbidden City"; purple either in allu- 
sion to a constellation that includes the pole starround which all the 
others turn or else directly to its color. 

It was forbidden very literally. If access during the day was a 
special privilege to those highest in rank in the empire, after dusk 
and until dawn again, except for eunuchs on service, the Emperor 
was literally the only male within its miles of avenues and corridors. 

104 



The Forbidden City 105 

While the system that created it continued, nothing within those 
haughty curtain walls -was ever to be glimpsed by a subject unless 
most improbably he were specially to be summoned. Here was the 
most strictly guarded soil in the Central Kingdom. 

I arrived in Peking, of course, when all this already belonged to 
the past and the empty shell alone remained. It had been divided 
to make two museums, administered by the state. Yet the ambition 
was soon burning brightly within me to explore all that I still could 
o its mysteries. Even if it required much planning, and great patience, 
I was determined to get to every corner possible. This continuing desire 
received its final rewards only after years had passed. 

The maze was itself a wonderful puzzle. Progressing northward and 
inward from the swarming Chinese City, through the Great Front 
Gate, one had first to traverse a long and broad esplanade. One then 
crossed a first row of five marble bridges, passing through a further 
massive gate to arrive at an enormous forecourt. Towering at the 
back of the open space were finally the palace walls. Here was the 
entrance to the hive of some rare species of insect; and as if to empha- 
size this, within every roof turned to imperial yellow. 

The main portal was the Wu Men, or Noon Gate, facing due south. 
It must surely have been the finest in the empire, as was fitting. Here 
the massive rose walls were pierced with five deep barrel-vaulted 
tunnels. Above the battlements rose a group of harmonious, yellow- 
roofed pavilions so large that a whole historical museum was later 
installed within them. The five entrances below were arranged as 
follows: the central one was for the Emperor alone; no one could use 
it except himself, or those in his immediate train. A vaulted passage- 
way to the east, pierced in the same wall, was for civil officials, who 
thus held the Chinese place of honor, on the left. A symmetrical 
passageway to the west was reserved for the military. These two were 
for the great officers of the land. Two minor entrances, finally, one 
at each side, served for lesser functionaries. At the main entrance to 
the "Great Within," a five-fold division of rank was thus established. 

From his throne, any one of the number of them placed in hall 
after hall along the central axis, theoretically the Emperor could see 
from this entrance through the Tartar City, through the great Ch'ien 



106 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Men, or Front Gate, and then further to the wall of the Chinese City 
with its own gate, and open country beyond all down a central 
avenue straight as a hair. This part of Peking was as if laid out on a 
chessboard. 

The east wall of the palace had a single entrance, the East Flowery 
Gate. This was used by civil officials when they came to their special 
Hall of Audience within, for the courts customarily held before dawn 
when the Emperor was in residence. The west wall of the Forbidden 
City also had its symmetrically placed entrance, the West Flowery 
Gate, for the military when they came to their hall, also before dawn. 

The Emperor never saw these officials; they prostrated themselves 
far from the throne room, which was distant within. Only the very 
highest officers were ever granted personal audience. Distance thus 
symbolized humble respect. However strange this may seem today, one 
must not refuse to take seriously a system that while it lasted com- 
manded the respect of millions of loyal subjects, men who regarded 
their nation not as one among many, but as the civilized and true 
center of the world, the Middle Kingdom. 

Within the perfect rectangle to which these gates gave access were 
courtyards without number. Broad high-walled palace avenues, tree- 
less and paved, separated the main blocks. Only at the rear, in the 
center of the north wall, was there a further and last gate, towering 
behind a final zone of highly artificial garden. This was known as the 
Shen Wu Men, the Gate of Divine Martial Vigor. There were no other 
entrances still less any asymmetrical wicket or postern gates. Be- 
hind a broad moat, the imperial bodyguard could protect these four 
entries, one for each point of the compass, in security. 

How was the interior planned; what principles determined the sub- 
divisions? Once one had grasped its chief purposes, the scheme was 
not complicated, but remarkably simple. The Great Within was divided 
into three parts. To the south were the chief halls for public audience 
or public acts; to the north was the private area of dwelling palaces, 
not only for the Emperor and his Empresses since he might have 
several but also for the numerous concubines, whose persons were 



The Forbidden City 107 

referred to obliquely and politely, in China, as "Side-Houses" because of 
this very arrangement. 

Then, between the public and private areas, and to provide isolation 
for the latter, was what I always thought of as a "Courtyard of Separa- 
tion" with only low buildings of its own, but with many lateral 
entrance-ways and ramps. Its paved area was vast and open. To 
present distance was apparently its single function. Covered with snow 
in winter or under the hot summer sun, it represented simply an inter- 
position of space, on a magnificent scale, to divide the Emperor's 
private from his public life. 

Each of these three areas had little-known courts or buildings to be 
explored, or offered details peculiar to itself alone, as I shall explain. 
Yet one feature was common to all: the central axis. This invisible 
line was the Emperor's, and his only. When he was in complete 
privacy, perhaps with his ladies walking in the paved rear garden 
of the palace, or else during the day with relatives in one of the more 
tranquil side courts; or when he moved forward to the outer palaces 
for a ceremony in one of the so-called "Three Great Halls," his presence 
was always significant directly in proportion with his nearness to, or 
his position upon, this central line. 

Each palace hall was raised a formally prescribed distance from the 
ground level, upon its own platform. Height emphasized dignity, and 
triple terraces with white marble balustrades elevated the chief build- 
ings. So ingeniously planned were these raised terraces in relation to 
the backdrop of Coal Hill to the north rising steep and high above 
every wall, planted with fine old white-barked pine trees, and crowned 
with five varicolored tile-roofed pleasure pavilions that from them 
one could look abroad and see nothing but imperial roofs and behind 
them distant landscape. To the west, in the nearer distance, were 
the tree-lined shores of the artificial imperial lakes. Beyond were the 
purple Western Hills. All signs of urban life were so completely erased 
that from what met the eye they did not exist. The magic that had 
raised this fantastic enclosure had simply made the teeming city about 
it vanish. 

In all my wanderings I had never surmised a marvel like this! So I 
set out to discover every mood, to wrest every secret from the wonder- 



108 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

ful assemblage. It was a pursuit, almost a wooing; it carried me through 
seasons; it became an absorption. It had in it, too, a great element of 
luck. After two or three years, some weed-overgrown courtyard, ap- 
parently destined to remain sealed forever with a rusty Chinese pad- 
lock, through chinks in whose rotting doorways I had long peered 
in vain, would one day be wide open, while unconcerned masons 
went about some simple task. My reward would then be great. It 
was an imperial hunt, also, silent, subtle, unpredictable. As an exer- 
cise in patience, with rich prizes after long watchfulness, it was 
unique. I stalked it with an architectural passion, and I was willing 
to wait long; but I was determined to secure a perfect return. 

So now I can remember hidden courts, remote corners, deserted 
unfamiliar regions; and I can recall them under the sailing clouds of 
high summer, or in the frozen mists of winter, under barbaric wind 
or pardoning rain. Memory opens these imperial perspectives once 
more, and to the rose and yellow of walls and roofs are added the 
lapis blue and emerald green of the painted beams, delicate flowering 
trees in their season; with here a figure and there a figure, some 
frank and smiling guard at a familiar corner, the pottering coolie 
who used to bring a huge and steaming wadded tea jug to the sentries 
on duty, or a tall and inscrutable dignified old eunuch who acted as 
custodian at one of the shrines, probably all now vanished from the 
site. 

The whole was so beautiful that it washed vision clean, yet so 
soberly proportioned that it never startled but only soothed the be- 
holder. If China was indeed grouped about Peking, and all Peking 
about this palace, this was only as it should have been. The center 
represented, in microcosm, the essence of the whole. 

' I should never have discovered many of the details that I did, had 
it not been for the leisure that I was able to devote to this place. 
I knew the days when mist hung motionless, and the rain dripped 
for hours in courts that no one ever came to see. I knew, too, how 
on certain blessed summer days buoyant clouds sailed happily hour 
by hour over the glittering expanse of yellow tiled roofs. In the portico 
of the gatehouse before the largest hall of all, the Palace of Extreme 
Harmony, in good weather one could sit at little tables and have tea, 
with breezes pouring through its shady recesses. Here, when the 



The Forbidden City 109 

weather was at its best, at moments one felt superbly afloat, aloof in a 
world made only of the cerulean heavens and of Chinese classical 
architecture. 

So many, even among those who deeply admired the palace, came 
only from time to time, and then followed unprotestingly the con- 
ventional routes laid out for visitors. Any day, I could afford to arrive 
early, or stay late, depending upon sun and sky. I could spend a 
whole spring morning sitting under an old flowering apple tree, in a 
corner I knew, or beside some fragrant lilacs near an abandoned 
bridge. There were occasions when by some lapse in the regulation of 
the moment, I was free to mount to the surrounding wall. Then, 
looking inward I would plan how to get to some place perhaps never 
glimpsed until that moment. I had eternally to review my packs of 
character car^s, of course, or to busy myself in one way or another 
with my attack upon the language, yet I was always at leisure to 
savor each charm in its transient hours. 

Wise orientation and the perfect rectangularity of the plan made 
it possible to observe in detail the progress of the sun through each 
day. Each season, too, recorded changes in terms of light and shade. 
China, one understood, had been long-lasting for the very reason that 
her life was keyed to the earth's rhythms. Even now, when I see a 
photograph of the palace interior, I can tell by the way the light falls 
at what time of day it was taken. For at noon all shadows were always 
cast straight north; and the angle of deviation, morning and after- 
noon, is marked clear on the properly oriented walls. 

From the top of the Wu Men one could look outward over the town. 
There was comparatively little of it to be seen, however, except smoke 
from some distant chimneys to the south. Immediately below, along 
the main axis, was the great forecourt so broad and spacious that it 
was said several thousand troops could be marshaled within it. 

On the left, or east, was the T'ai Miao, or Ancestor Temple, 
for the last ruling house. Its lofty halls, now open and empty, con- 
tained the ghostly spirit thrones of deceased emperors and their con- 
sorts, strangely narrow since they were for the dead but neverthe- 
less all provided with imperial yellow satin "throw-overs." These 
buildings were set within a grove of arbor vitae, gnarled and twisted 
old trees. A row of them had even been planted down the center 



HO THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

of the main avenue, leading south, to indicate symbolically that here, 
for the comings and goings of the dead, human roads were 'no longer 
of use. Whole families of cranes, curious mature birds, nested in an 
enclosure of these trees off to one side; this was the only quarter of 
the capital where one ever saw them. 

To the west, symmetrical with the Ancestor Temple and thus also 
adjoining the palace, was a similar enclosure which we knew in Eng- 
lish simply as "Central Park." It had originally been a kind of 
Earth Temple, for sacrifices now abandoned; and it still possessed a 
strange outdoor altar, raised and square, each side made of tiles glazed 
a different color. Since the fall of the Manchu house, this site had been 
converted into a "modern" public garden. Some poor cemented foun- 
tains, Western novelties, and several atrocious bronze statues of war 
lords, strutting horribly on small pedestals, defaced it; and two long 
rows of outdoor restaurants, between tea houses and photographers' 
shops, bordered a broad walk near the rear. Here in the late afternoon, 
especially when the peonies that were one of the attractions of the 
place were in bloom, willowy Chinese girls, the local belles, were 
accustomed to promenade in the midst of their families to show off 
their lovely figures, encased in far less lovely Shanghai brocades and 
silks. Their flat slippered feet detracted somewhat from the picture, 
but they were often thin and graceful as antelopes. 

At the rear of both the Ancestor Temple and "Central Park" were 
broad terraces, planted with rows of ancient trees, bordering the moat 
behind which rose the walls of the palace. These, being to the north, 
were shaded places to which one could retreat on languid summer 
afternoons, with the inevitable tea and melon seeds set out on wicker 
tables and served from a neighboring matshed. Shimmering dragon- 
flies would dart between the lotus and the water; and the heavy scent of 
the large pink flowers would finally fuse all together in a single im- 
pression of soporific peace. One might linger until a moon began 
to appear through the motionless cypress branches, not a breeze 
stirring, nothing to break the spell. 

Within the Forbidden City itself, though, what buildings were most 
extraordinary? The reader will not here find descriptions; and this is 



The Forbidden City in 

not because the splendors of the Three Great Halls, for example, did 
not attain the maximum of objective impressiveness as had been 
planned by their anonymous architects. Nevertheless, unpeopled cells 
of a now empty hive, they held little for the seeker of a vanished 
past, which I had now become. 

To be sure, one could wander into the foremost of them, the finest 
single building in the whole enclosure, and gaze aloft at the gilded 
coffering of its fine ceiling, supported upon columns made from the 
tallest trees in the empire. Yet there was a sense of emptiness, and in 
the general desertion it was the trivial remarks of the Chinese or 
foreign visitors that inevitably branded themselves in the mind. 

Formerly small "mountains" of bronze somewhat like large door- 
stops had been placed at intervals on the once mirror-glossy black 
brick surface of the now bare floor, to indicate a "thus-far-and-no- 
farther" to the assembled officials of the first, or second, or lower 
ranks, who had come here to prostrate themselves. Yet the throne was 
now not only deserted but even visibly dusty; the mandarins long 
since departed; and the guides hovered about indifferently delivering 
glib misinformation, in Chinese or English, to those who came to gape 
and then soon turned away again. 

The second of the three great halls was square rather than oblong, 
and was planned as a smaller, intermediate, building. It had once 
been used to house the great seals of state, heavy squares of jade 
elaborately carved with writhing dragons. These, long since looted or 
stolen, were now represented merely by rows of high empty boxes, 
each on its separate pedestal and covered over with orange-yellow 
cloth. The great seal of the Emperor, as the saying went, "transmitted 
the state"; but that variety of state no longer existed to be given in suc- 
cession, either peacefully or bitterly disputed at the risk of life itself, 
without scruple and finally even by murder. 

A great water clock, which long ago had ceased to function, once 
marked the hours here, as water dripped slowly from tank to tank, 
poured into the topmost from a ladder at the back. Its floating gauge 
rose from the lowest tank of all, on a level with the spectator. Pendant 
to this Chinese clock was a Western one, with a big round face, 
equipped with a small stair at the side which one could mount to 



H2 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

wind it. East and West thus formed a pair: Chinese symmetry as 
usual providing symbols by balancing opposites. 

The third great hall was oblong, and also oriented broadside to 
the south upon a high marble terrace. Its internal arrangement was 
similar to that of the Hall of Extreme Harmony. Everything about it, 
though, was somewhat smaller in scale, as befitted a rear hall for 
secondary ceremonies. Since it was a little more deserted, more natu- 
rally forgotten, it was a much pleasanter place in which to loiter. 

Yet these three halls never revealed any surprises. They had been 
too important once, and their proper function was now utterly obliter- 
ated, converted as they had been into exhibition halls for large and 
rather gaudy palace trappings. It proved much more satisfactory to 
look at them from distant vantage points perhaps recalling lines of 
court poems and muse upon the power that once had drawn within 
them the talents of an empire. 

There were, however, courtyards that did retain a special quality, 
some spell or other that would lure me again and again. The Chai 
Rung, or Hall of Abstinence was in one of these. Before any sacrifice 
of importance, in the old China, ritual demanded that the Emperor 
go into retirement, to purify himself. These periods of withdrawal 
might last for several days, during which he fasted. There were also 
other prescriptions, including obligatory bathing. 

The court before this hall was open and unadorned, quite bare of 
trees. Within, besides the usual apartments, was an inner room, 
once completely secluded, with a sunken tank for the ceremonial 
bathing at one end. How often must an Emperor have withdrawn 
here, temporarily to sever his ties with the outer world, and in spite 
of all the powers conferred by absolute sovereignty in an Oriental 
country still have felt himself, like all clay, what Maeterlinck has 
called, I think, "un -pauvrc petit tre mystrieux"l For him, also, one 
day his rank would be of no avail; he too must in the end face the 
insoluble problems familiar to the humblest of his subjects. 

When tie Forbidden City was converted into a museum, this hall 
was set aside for the exhibition of various jades. Large showcases of 
"mutton fat" or "spinach green" were consequently placed against 



The Forbidden City 113 

almost every wall. Yet a sense of the original use o the place lingered 
on, too personal somehow to give way to present vicissitude. 

There was another court that seemed to possess an even more 
sensitive and indefinable vibration. It was small and open, indeed 
merely four quite low plain rose walls, with simple gates, each with 
a pair of leaves, at opposite ends; and two rows of young trees running 
its length to shelter a pleasant stretch of broad paving between. It was 
at its best in winter, when a slight fall of snow powdered their 
crystalline branches. Then so perfect seemed its proportions, so pro- 
found its utter simplicity, that just to pass through it stirred in me a 
mysterious pleasure. There must have been a harmony of proportion 
so perfect that half a foot, one way or another, would have destroyed 
the effect. So far as I could learn, the place was in no way to be 
distinguished from half a dozen others somewhat like it. It thus be- 
came, as I privately named it, the "Magic Court," since I never was 
able to analyze, but could always feel again, its peculiar spelL 

A scar existed on the face of the Forbidden City in the north- 
west corner. Here, one came abruptly to a screen of "natural" rockery, 
guarding not a further palace, but outlined stark against the open sky. 
Behind it were now only foundations where obviously fine buildings 
once had stood. 

These had been lost in a curious fire. The last Emperor but one 
had allowed himself, it was said, the imprudence of an altercation 
with the whole body of the court eunuchs. He had issued a command 
to inventory his possessions in a number of places, hoping to stop r 
or at least to stem the peculation that eventually, dynasty after 
dynasty, always grew intolerable. Here he courted defeat For the 
eunuchs were formidable in number and in entrenched privilege. 
Heads would fall if this went on! So one night a fire broke out that 
consumed so much treasure, and made so much more untraceable, 
that thenceforth there was an end to further inveotoryipg. The scar 
was thus a double rebuke, and one loss had engendered another. , 

It must not be thought that I wandered thus about various sections 
of the palace, merely to snjoy such pleasures. There were two libraries 



114 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

to which I went quite regularly for work, especially after some years 
had gone by and I had been granted a special pass. I was very proud 
of this. Except for one other American, Dr. J. C. Ferguson (the 
venerable adviser first to the throne and then to succeeding presi- 
dents), who was dean of our local colony, I believe that no other 
foreigner possessed the little diptych with its Chinese text that 
opened these inner gates to me. I had received it at the request of this 
compatriot, much trusted by the Chinese, who had kindly exerted him- 
self on my behalf; and no privilege ever accorded to me in China 
gave me more pleasure. 

Soldiers on guard came to know me; and I could proceed perhaps 
a quarter of a mile farther than could regular visitors, into unexplored 
parts of the maze between long avenues, quite deserted. Finally, after 
returning several respectful salutes on the way, I would reach either, 
on the east, the Palace Archives, or on the west, a library arranged 
for the administrators of the Palace Museum. 

They were very different places. An air of unhurried and tranquil 
scholarship hung over the reading room of the Archives. It was of 
course only another converted palace hall, yet it had better furniture 
than most the archivists had a nice sense of these things and its 
hardwood chairs were placed with undeviating symmetry about the 
walls or at heavy central tables. Complete silence surrounded this 
room. A courteously attentive white-haired servant first smilingly 
brought tea; and one always further entered upon a litde conversation 
with the official or two present, about trifles. These became important 
chiefly as a medium for a preliminary exchange of moods, before 
broaching the object of one's visit It was pleasant, living as I did, 
really to be in no hurry; I still feel that haste might have ruined all. 

"Would one, then, perhaps like" finally "to see that treasure, the 
Great Map of Peking, the original one of the reign of Ch'ien Lung?" 

"If no trouble, yes indeed!" 

(This was a map so large that it indicated almost every single 
building in the whole city as it had existed in the eighteenth century.) 

So the wished-for section would be brought from some storehouse 
at the rear, beyond a further court, and then spread out over the whole 
of the large tables for me to pore over. In my studies I was by now 



The Forbidden City 115 

resurrecting part after part of the old capital; and not only palaces 
and temples but also the imperial stables, the mews, the kennels, the 
archery fields, the barracks, even the icehouses, all were there. 

Damp and bookworms had been at work in the two centuries 
intervening, and they had caused no little damage. One or two 
identifications, of much importance to me, hung by holes in the 
labeling or rather by the fortunate absence of them. The vanished 
Temple of the Pole Star was here shown facing to the north. Early 
Jesuit churches, later destroyed, could here be seen with their baroque 
facades neatly delineated in elevation. There were always new sur- 
prises; or the exciting confirmation of past surmise. Our talk remained 
hushed, the joy of discovery respected. When it came time to go back 
along the deserted rose passageways again, I was often glad of their 
length, for such success was heady, and this made more comfortable 
the return to actuality. 

The Museum Library was in quite another region of the palace, in 
the opposite direction. Here the conversation was invariably a little 
more brisk, more contemporary. It would run to such subjects as the 
re-edition of imperial catalogues or the need of photography, with 
negatives and prints, and hopes for reproduction and publication. 

In days that now seem far off, before the Japanese arrived, here 
was a center of learned work, held one now sees like a sand fort 
against an advancing tide. Yet the projects were far-reaching, some 
of them positively dazzling. There was so much of beauty to preserve, 
to codify and if possible to give to the world. Even then, though, with 
the threat of war, most of the furs and jades, the porcelains and 
pictures of the museum had already been shipped to the distant South; 
and during my time in Peking one often talked sadly about what was 
in hiding in faraway caves, treasures that one hoped were being 
preserved against a better day, which never came. 

It was specially in the company of the staff of this library that I 
learned how little the West can hope to know of the great bulk of 
Chinese culture. With a flick of the hand, some biographical dictionary 
or gazetteer would be consulted; and as several interested participants 
gathered round to discuss the findings, some three thousand years of 



H6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

genius vanished men and noble cities would be touched on, a word 
here and a word there, with such lightness and familiarity that a 
spectator like myself, counting his very limited store, felt how hope- 
less would be any attempt to achieve even a summation of what the 
great past of China had produced. Here one heard formulated in terms 
of clear and powerful vision many novel aspects of what this civiliza- 
tion once had offered; yet to those learned men it all was as obvious 
the Chinese so phrase itas a pearl in the palm of one's hand. 

There were certain scrolls of painting, or detailed photographs of 
them, left here even at the end. (These served admirably, I learned, to 
catalyze discussion.) One outstanding example was very long. It rep- 
resented a passage through the old Sung capital of K'ai-Feng along its 
waterways. Beginning quiedy in the country, pollarded willows border- 
ing open canals in the fields, as the painting was unrolled, one ar- 
rived at the walls of the city. Here die press of boats became very 
great; goods were being loaded and unloaded. Once within, one 
progressed along canals into every kind of urban quarter. The grain 
merchants', the dyers', a small square with a fair in progress, the acro- 
bats drawing a crowd, taverns with gardens bordering the water's 
edge: all were shown with every detail of circumstance. 

Finally a hush seemed to come over the busde on the waterways; one 
had entered the fairyland of the palace enclosure, the forbidden region. 
Here were lapis rocks, and malachite verdure; here all was refinement 
and elegance. One passed through groves of pines, concubines in fluted 
skirts with fluttering sashes making here and there a charming group, 
and finally one came out on the shores of the imperial lake. Floating 
there was the largest barge of all, of two stories. Upon its upper deck 
had been placed a throne, brocade-covered yet empty, through respect. 
Then suddenly a great rock in the foreground closed the whole. On 
it, like a carved epitaph, were inscription and signature, and the 
identifying seals. This was said to be a copy, dating from the eighteenth 
century, of a scroll so famous that in the Sung dynasty one imperial 
minister had finally not scrupled to commit murder, to obtain it as 
his possession. 

It was strange how many different regions were fitted into the simple 
rectangle of the Forbidden City's bounding walls. The courtyards, 



The Forbidden City 117 

and especially the gardens, at the rear, might well have been in some 
other palace, so dissimilar were they from the great buildings lying 
far to the south. Much of the difference was due, I feel upon reflection, 
to changing scale. Chinese formal arrangement, as exemplified in 
Peking, demanded that the great courts of any palace be majestic, 
so in the beginning space was used lavishly. Then, as one progressed 
inward, approaching nearer and nearer to the rear wall, the units 
became gradually shallower, to squeeze in all that had been planned. 
At the very back there was almost always a little crowding. The For- 
bidden City itself was no exception to this rule. 

There were also certain halls in the private zone of the palace, on 
the central axis, used for Manchu household purposes. Weddings were 
held here; and the quite asymmetrical plan of the largest of them 
included a "kitchen" for private sacrifices, and also space for witch 
dancing and exorcism. A high mast stood in one of these courts, to 
present meat to the crows, in commemoration of an old Manchu 
legend. For one of their national heroes, in a time of great peril, 
fleeing from his enemies had hidden in a tree. There the crows instead 
of cawing, had remained quite still as if to protect him. 

There was further in this region a pair of most attractive so-called 
"warm rooms," spacious sunny chambers, with various dependencies, 
all heated for winter residence by flues and conduits under the floor. 
These reminded one of the northern origins of the last ruling house, 
and recalled the much smaller palace in Mukden, which had been 
their earlier capital before the conquest. On either side of the main 
courts, at this level, were other spacious ones assigned to the principal 
concubines. These were consciously elegant in highly individual ways, 
all still handsomely roofed with deep yellow glazed tiles. 

Then the garden began, so ornamented and set about with odd 
arrangements of rock, or sponge coral formations set upon ornately 
carved marble bases, so built up with small pavilions like jewel caskets, 
or highly decorated .shrines and temples, that k was a long while 
before I could learn to think of it as a garden at all. 

To be sure, there were trees, many cypresses, their twisting trunks 
thrust upward through the paving^ which was ofiea enriched with 
bands of small pebbles laid to form elaborate patterns. At one place, 
on axis, two of the oldest trees &ad been grafted together, making a 



Ilg THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

forked arch; and this the Chinese much admired. There were also 
flowering bushes, planted within paved squares, the most famous of 
them a flourishing mock orange specially cherished by the Empress 
Dowager. It was said by the Chinese to have come from a distance, 
and bore the magniloquent name of "Flower of Peace." Americans, 
though, always recognized it as common enough, almost a suburban 
plant at home. Where, though, does distance not lend enchantment? 

In spite of all this artificiality, the rear garden was a most agreeable 
place. The altars of its many religious buildings streamers of many- 
colored faded brocade hanging low behind their open doors were still 
furnished with quantities of dusty gilded objects. Banners and scrolls 
still covered their walls. To inspect these was an invitation to gentle 
wandering. There were also odd "porches," "studies," and "cabinets," 
fancifully decorated and painted in unconventional colors; with gal- 
vanized sheet-iron roofing now over their once open small courts 
a nineteenth-century touch! In these, it was said, the last Emperor had 
received his foreign guests more informally than anywhere else in 
the whole palace. Typically, though, he was here as far away as pos- 
sible from the main throne halls. 

One or two of the garden pavilions were elaborate, running to 
several stories. Here the last Emperor's tutor, Sir Reginald Johnston, 
and also the young American girl who taught English to the last 
Empress, Miss Isabel Ingram, would meet together, after morning 
lessons, for small luncheon parties of four. The young Empress took 
a liking for the foreign name of Elizabeth, which she wished used 
for herself on such occasions. Thus the wan children who were the 
last sovereigns played pathetically. Their time, and that of the order 
they nominally headed, had already run out. 

To make the Englishman feel at home, one of these houses had been 
arranged for his personal use, with a thoroughgoing and quite fright- 
ful installation of Victorian furnishings. Axminster carpets with large 
cabbage roses covered the floor; cheap Nottingham lace curtains still 
hung at the windows; and rickety sofas and deplorably ugly fancy 
chairs had been placed about "foreign style" in the small rooms. 

In these rear buildings the palace eunuchs had apparently installed 
the most magpie-like collection of all their misguided purchases al- 




Old-fashioned gentleman, Peking 




Adding the titles to a Chinese boo{ 




Hsi Pien AfSn in snow, Peking 



The Forbidden City 119 

though some of the assorted wares were gifts from diplomats or mis- 
sionaries. Thin and feeble art nouveau chandeliers hung from the 
ceilings; there were quantities of swollen-veined Tiffany glass dishes, 
boxes of paper-wrapped French toilet soap, even bottles of a familiar 
brand of American antiseptic mouth wash. The last were placed on 
side tables pell-mell with fine jade and porcelain ornaments. 

I even remember one cheap drinking mug, considered correct by 
someone for imperial presentation, embellished in decalcomania with 
the legend FOR A GOOD BOY! When the museum was first arranged, 
these objects were not removed. Everything had been permanently 
sealed, by order, within the apartments through the glass windows 
of which one now peered. Even dried-up plants still remained in their 
decorated cache-pots, their soil bone-dry and cracked with age. 

Nowhere more than here did one sense a basic fact that first strained 
credulity: as this last dynasty approached nearer and nearer to its 
ignominious end, the Chinese completely lost their once excellent 
taste. Horrors abounded, even in the choice and forms of the simplest 
native objects. Finally one saw the last cherished importations, early 
gramophones with painted morning-glory horns, or cheap bicycles 
displayed in front of inferior embroidered Japanese screens. There 
was even a deep enameled bathtub, with no plumbing attached, set 
into an alcove hung with ugly pink satin curtains. It was a descent 
indeed from the splendors that had traditionally surrounded the dragon 
throne. 

There was one last band of rockery, and one came out finally to the 
last paved court within the palace. Through one more tall crimson 
spirit screen one could reach the outer world again. The gate tower 
looming high above was used as a storage place for the many sedan 
chairs and litters, and all the elaborate regalia formerly necessary in 
court processions. 

The shows for which they once had served were now to be recon- 
structed in the imagination only, of course; and to animate the scene 
one had to people it with numbers of serving eunuchs, dressed in their 
rainbow-colored robes, servitors of a variety that still gives one a slight 
shudder if one looks through old photographs. One could then fancy 
the much-feared old Empress Dowager in her chair, borne on some 



120 THE YEABS THAT WERE FAT 

minor errand within the palace, with perhaps the ill-fated favorite con- 
sort of her son forced to follow in a smaller chair the poor "Pearl Con- 
cubine" who at the end had been thrust into a well by these self-same 
eunuchs, not far from this rear gate, in what was apparently a well- 
planned "suicide." The glittering insects who figured in such court 
dramas could be poisonous indeed. 

If one lingered a little overlong, reflecting on such matters, the 
freedom of the open street between this rear gate and the grounds 
of Coal Hill with perhaps some simple sight such as a laughing col- 
loquy between two running ricksha boys became a consolation. In 
China also, the sadness of palaces had weighed heavy indeed upon 
those for whom they had become prisons; and the burden of help- 
less sorrow, of humiliation amid imperial luxury, had moved many 
a poet through the dynasties. 

Coal Hill itself, which was not strictly within the palace enclosure 
but formed instead a separate one behind it, has surely been described 
in many books before this. Yet I should like to reserve a place for it 
here also. In form it was related to the crescent-shaped tomb mounds 
that were always placed to the rear, and whenever possible to the 
north, of large sepulchers. Like these it was also supposed to protect 
the palace from baleful influences always feared from this quarter. 
Coal may possibly have been the foundation of its five high crests, 
each topped with an elaborate tile-roofed pavilion; and were this so 
it might have provided ample stores in time of siege. Yet fruitless 
digging was once attempted; and this English name is almost surely 
a misnomer, a mistranslation due to a local variant in the Chinese 
tone of its name. It is much more probable that Coal Hill was origi- 
nally only called "Beautiful." 

The pavilions crowning it were designed to be a splendid termina- 
tion to a unique area of the palace region. They rose symmetrically 
each upon its separate eminence, with white-barked evergreens planted 
between, and verdure spread below. Conscious variety of shape en- 
riched their design; their decoration was also of bright color. The 
outermost pair was circular, the middle ones polygonal, and the cen- 
tral one, the largest of all, broad and square, with sturdy red lacquer 



The Forbidden City !2i 

columns supporting a high, double-tiered roof topped with a button 
of imperial yellow tall as a man. All this was flung, as on the crest 
of an advancing, steep, wave, high against the sky. 

From this place, above and behind the center of the palace, the view 
was like no other in the capital. One was so high, and the region one 
overlooked, even down to the forecourts in the distance, was so vast! 
The plan was of course uncompromisingly rectilinear; yet the grace- 
ful curve of every roof, the unbroken harmony of cheerful color gave 
so much simple pleasure that even here the final effect was still gentle 
rather than overwhelming. I know of no other architecture that can 
produce such an impression, on such a scale* 

From Coal Hill, in the old days, one could survey large parts o 
the North City, behind it, as from an eyrie perched high in a wood. 
One unexpected effect of Chinese arrangements for domestic build- 
ing, always with low structures about internal courtyards, was that 
from a distant height, as here, in summer their walls became com- 
pletely invisible under the foliage of trees planted within. Today not 
a few scars mar this effect, projecting cement buildings in rigid 
"foreign style," bare and with window-pierced walls. There was quite 
enough left, however, to make clear how once in the very center of 
this metropolis, one could look out toward battlemented fortifications 
across an unbroken area of green foliage, under which human habi- 
tation was so concealed that one was reduced to guessing where all 
but the main arteries lay. 

Directly behind Coal Hill and still within its bounding walls, lay 
the closed halls to be used only when an Emperor in death had by 
regulation to be separated from the living, while preparations were 
being completed for his funeral. The mausoleum in the hills had usually 
been built far in advance, either at the Eastern or the Western Tombs. 
The final procession always took several days to reach either place; 
and its scale was invariably mammoth. One Ming Emperor in Nan- 
king, I was told, had even had arranged five simultaneous funerals 
for himself, which started out for as many tombs. This was done 
through fear of grave-robbing in China a most ancient occupa- 
tion. The funeral halls behind Coal Hill were thus only a temporary 



122 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

resting place. The trees grew thick there, however, and quiet sur- 
rounded it, empty and deserted, during all my days in Peking. 

Finally an open broad avenue, still along the central line, led away 
north toward the Rear Gate through the walls of the Imperial City. 
Thence one could continue still on axis toward the Drum and Bell 
Towers, quite far north, which served as landmarks for the whole 
region. From many distant places one could see them isolated and 
majestic, often catching the late light. A poor municipal branch library 
languished under the balconies from which once had pealed the 
drums; and the closed Bell Tower was as deserted as if in a country 
town. Yet looked at from afar, they were proud witness of how many 
centuries had been spent perfecting the traditional plan. Here in 
Peking it had reached a superb culmination only just before as cen- 
turies go modernity came to rob it of all significance. 

There was one area of the palace, imposing on the map, that always 
remained closed. We were told that it was so overgrown that it liter- 
ally could no longer be shown; even the labor of clearing a path 
through it was beyond the power of the authorities. Season after sea- 
son this explanation had to suffice. Yet a small group of us from the 
Language School finally determined to attack the problem frontally. 
I well remember waiting with the inevitable cups of tea in the 
anteroom of the man in authority himself, wondering if such a plan 
could bring success. Our small delegation was unhurried and courteous, 
in carefully phrased Chinese. He too was courteous. Finally we pre- 
vailed very much I believe through this demonstration of our knowl- 
edge of Chinese composure. A visit was permitted. 

We had to wait for some weeks before the clearing away was an- 
nounced as accomplished; but the time did come, and a handful of 
Westerners passed through gates that long had been sealed. Truly, 
much had had to be cut away! There were sharp ends of lopped-oflE 
thorns in crevices upon the marble steps; wisps of hay were still drying 
where they had been flung aside to clear a path for us. 

There rapidly began an afternoon of exciting adventure. We hastened 
here and there, discovering what it was like to see palace apartments 
long uncared for, and apparently abandoned income haste at the end. 



The Forbidden City 123 

There were still, for example, several large bundles wrapped in orange 
doth lying on the dusty floor of a locked upstairs library, a room with 
paneling inlaid with unusually precious materials. Caught in the seal- 
ing, they had been left behind, who knows by whom, and who knows 
why? 

Nothing had ever been restored, nothing, obviously, put back into 
order; this we could see under the thick dust everywhere, as we 
hastened to look through traceried doors and windows, long without 
their usual paper. It became obvious that one reason why it had taken 
so long to convince the authorities o our scholarly desires was that 
they were losing face by letting us peer into these untidy and deserted 
rooms. What we saw left a strange impression. 

The structural fabric was still in tolerable repair; the architecture 
and decoration could easily be assigned to a time corresponding with 
our own late eighteenth century. Large carved jade animals, even a 
jade goldfish bowl, were still neatly in place on the overgrown paths, 
out-otdoor ornaments. There were no signs of major violence. What 
finally had strangled the whole seemed the ramification of property 
itself! One was assailed by weariness merely to contemplate the ad- 
ministration of possessions as numerous as these had become. There 
had been such quantities that even the uprooting was incomplete; all 
afternoon we kept seeing chances the marauders had missed. 

Paint was everywhere cracked or peeling, and lacquer disintegrat- 
ing; that of course was to be expected. The charm of such an ex- 
tended setting, untampered with, made us accept this ruin easily. Yet 
we saw so many places from which objects, probably all precious, 
must have been summarily carted away, and we could observe that 
originally there must have been such numbers of them, that by the 
end of a long afternoon we found ourselves fatigued with a sense of 
almost personal evisceration. 

So it was from courtyards like these that palace loot had cornel 
This was the setting for the largest and most expensive "curios" that 
finally reached the West. What we had seen hitherto elsewhere in the 
Forbidden City was, then, merely a rearrangement, an awkward 
putting back and substitution, a glossing over! This was what palaces 
became when the rodents that are men had finished nibbling. Prop- 



124 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

erty is hard to guard, anywhere. Yet there must have been vaster 
amounts here than I believe one could find in any similar Western 
palace, and it had suffered a condign fate more irrevocably. These 
disorderly and tattered rooms had been the mine from which the suave 
dealers had enriched themselves; this, finally, was the disorder left 
when a great and proud system succumbed. 

The Emperor, then, how had the Emperor felt? One thing came 
struggling to clarity. The Emperor of China in that time of pros- 
perity had owned so many examples of every known object under 
heaven that paradoxically he became an almost propertyless man, mov- 
ing everywhere and forever through an endless maze of almost im- 
personal possession. Nothing really could add much, or even subtract 
much, from what was always about him until the arrival of a final 
catastrophe. The joy of simple ownership given to ordinary mortals, 
who can dream of acquiring, struggle to possess, and then fondle some 
new object: this could not exist for him. A nation of five hundred mil- 
lion, aesthetically talented, had for centuries been heaping up quantities 
of treasure, for every use and of every variety; and all the best flowed 
regularly to the court, much of it even to the palace, for the use of this 
One Man, He perpetually lacked, therefore, Emperor because he 
was, any sense of fluctuation, any of the satisfaction in small human 
desires fulfilled that is also one of the treasures of the humble. Per- 
spectives of almost terrifying abnormality kept opening before me 
that afternoon. 

These courtyards, we were told, were planned for the extreme old 
age of the great eighteenth-century monarch, Ch'ien Lung; and in one 
place we found a curious symbol of this. There was one large court, 
quite as regular as all the others; but in the center strangely re- 
placing the usual paving of cut stone almost filling it full, choking 
up the empty space, was a great hollow mound of porous rock. 
It was so high that from the top of it, on one side, a tiny flying 
marble bridge leapt across to a second-story gallery. Deep under- 
neath had been contrived artificial caves; and we groped about in their 
windings, discovering the arrangement and observing how the dim 
light, seeming always about to fail, would ever at the last moment be 



The Forbidden City 125 

eked out by some artfully contrived funnel or aperture. This, though, 
was an old garden trick. 

At several places upon this artificial mountain, stones had been set 
to make rustic flights of steps, by which one could ascend to the sum- 
mit. Here, crowning the center of this courtyard for old age, was an 
allegory subtly contrived for those who could read it. A circular pavil- 
ion, using plum color and green for its tiling and woodwork, be- 
came the place for an aged Emperor to be led, falteringly, to catch 
the last rays of sunlight. It was a patriarch's journey, near and yet far, 
dignified, too, as the thoughts of die old. 

Every detail of this little pavilion, the thin "cracked ice" of its 
window tracery, the carved borders of its marble flooring, and its 
painted beam-work, played upon a single theme, the fragile plum 
blossoms that in cold weather spring from the gnarled branches of aa 
old tree. To Chinese eyes the meaning was as clear as if written: "May 
there thus be small flowers of enjoyment in your old age, delicate and 
fated to bloom only in the cold; yet also pure and fair, sprung from 
branches that have weathered the storms of time." 



CHAPTER viii Princely Men and Little 



TT TE HAVE examined the setting of life in Peking; and watched 
VV a little how life passed there through the moving seasons. 
What of the people who so unfailingly animated this scene? What were 
they like? 

To attempt a summation of Chinese character is like trying to 
draw a net through the sea: not only is the task of leviathan magni- 
tude, but some of the agile small fry of thought must always escape. 
How can one ever state "The Chinese are thus and so," when for 
every general statement somewhere its complete reverse is also true? 
No two men, indeed, can find the same traits of character in any 
country, because at bottom as we look at the world, we find only our- 
selves. What I shall say here will perhaps be the opposite of what 
was discovered and then stated in complete good faith by a mission- 
ary, or a diplomat, or some Western oil or tobacco agent; yet all these 
impressions originally were drawn from the same broad field of ob- 
jective reality. China's very size, of course, has added to the dis- 
crepancies. 

Yet these intangibles must be put down; and I wish to qualify the 
next two chapters in this book with only a single statement. The 
China that I saw was, in so far as possible, the traditional China, which 
I was able to observe with a minimum of the deviation in vision that 
is caused by self-interest. I practiced no profession; I was not forced 
into relationship with any group; I asked for no special privileges 



Princely Men and Little 127 

inevitably to be paid back in other coin. Above all I neither earned 
nor spent in that country any significant sums of money. Thus I 
was able to be receptive yet self-contained, curious yet leisurely. I had 
ample time to allow the pattern to form itself, no need to force it to a 
desired shape. What I have set out below, therefore, are my own 
conclusions after they had gone through the usual preliminary ex- 
tremes of oscillation; as they finally fixed themselves in my mind 
with the passage of tranquil years, which were indeed so blissful 
personally as surely to have conferred upon the whole its sanguine 
and happy stamp. This then is my truth. My statements have about 
them nothing so pretentious as a claim to general validity. 

Now unless one is to produce mere snapshots of impression, to 
read the character of the inhabitants of any country does require 
living there long. This is specially true if the underlying ethic is 
as different as are, in China, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism 
from familiar types of Christianity in the West. Time is also required 
for the study of men as well as books. One cannot take matters at 
their face value. It would be an error to believe, for instance, that be- 
cause we announce the news of a death with a grave face, and the 
Chinese smiles, he is therefore a monster. Here we permit a feeling to 
show which, because of quite another standard of behavior, he in- 
stinctively hides or converts into something else. I early realized that 
for a long while all my findings had carefully to be labeled "Strictly 
Provisional. Handle with Care"! Only after I had both read and dis- 
cussed much, and with various persons, concerning the aspects of 
Chinese character set out below, did I begin to feel that I could make 
some attempt to classify them. 

In this chapter, I should like to confine myself very much to the 
individual; although there were many abstract qualities woven through 
the texture of Chinese lifesuch as, especially in Peking, a pervading 
grandeur and gentleness that I hope to deal with later. The individ- 
ual, though, may by chance appear in the guise of some venerable 
official, a Buddhist monk, a Taoist wanderer, an old functionary, or 
perhaps a modern student. Who, exactly, is he? Let me say at once 
that granting all the variation in single destinies, the overt social 
relations of Chinese life seem to me predominately Confucian. Con- 



128 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

fucianism, indeed, is just this the broad accepted rules of public 
conduct evolved for the relation of Chinese with each other. They are 
wholly a product of the Chinese mind, one that came to birth on 
Chinese soil. Unlike Buddhism they are not a complex, imaginative, 
importation. Indeed it may well be argued that Confucianism in its 
studious refusal to concern itself with the supernatural, is finally not 
a religion at all. The general acceptance and the enormous prestige 
of its code for so many centuries, however, have given it a validity 
undisputed even in spheres where its basic assumptions are not recog- 
nized. 

Confucius himself, who lived about twenty-five centuries ago, was 
a gentleman, a very great if at times a rather pedantic gentleman. 
With pious reverence he gathered all the details of ceremony and 
etiquette as they had been practiced in the courts and by the worthies 
of previous ages, by the great who had preceded him. He obviously 
set much value on these matters. By the time of the death of Mencius, 
nearly two centuries later, the codification had become permanent. It 
furnished a complete guide to human relations. It has never changed 
since. 

What is this ideal, so long-established, so genuinely and profoundly 
revered? The system that it engendered was given most solemn state 
recognition until almost our own day when a serious reaction has 
set in. That critics did early and often object is true; but through 
the long ages their carping faultfinding with something so stable 
and so practical always smacked a little of flippancy, if not of heresy. 

Fundamentally, Confucius wished to establish the gentleman as the 
ruler of the state. Given scrupulous and ethical standards of personal 
conduct, and granted only a general willingness to put such men in 
power and then to abide by their decisions, the problems of the world, 
thought Confucius, could finally be solved. All the rest was bloody 
struggle and anarchy, or else intellectual frivolity. Yet the gentleman, 
of course, was not made way for; and objectively Confucius' policy 
was a great failure. Struggle and anarchy have indelibly marked 
China's long history; but, then, where have they not? 

It is remarkable that down the ages this detailed character of the 
gentleman has endured. It has indeed so kept its original form that 



Princely Men and Little 129 

even today it bears Confucius' recognizable stamp, across twenty-five 
centuries. It is still the accepted norm by which Chinese man, in his 
social relationships, measures others and is in turn measured by them. 

What, then, is this gentleman like? Even the popular Western cari- 
cature of the "heathen Chinee" bears some of the stamp of truth. The 
patriarchal old man is the ideal. He salutes gravely. He possesses indeed 
a whole code of bowing, from a slight dignified nod to the repeated 
prostrations of the deep kowtow or head-knocking, as the word means 
literally. He clasps his own hands and smiles. He delivers hoary 
proverbs, or quaint platitudes. Yet his wisdom is profound, and an 
important difference from certain Western varieties it is cheerful 
and not bitter. So this stock figure comes near to the truth. The 
Chinese ideal does set tremendous emphasis on maturity and decorum, 
on etiquette. Yet it is always surprisingly good-humored, reasonable 
rather than rigid in its consideration of human problems. Typically, 
too, the solution sought is invariably practical rather than theological. 

Confucius himself has given us maxims in plenty. He tells us, for 
instance, that the gendeman's society is "clear and plain as water"; it 
is altogether free of that emotional coloring which the ill-bred man 
perpetually gives to it, either through what he does or what he leaves 
undone. Indeed it is because of this very limpidity of conduct that the 
character of the gentleman is never quite comprehended by coarser 
natures. He must, above all things, be careful to pass muster at the 
bar of his own judgment rather than at that of others. When he 
meets with adversity, Confucius recommends, typically, that he "curl 
himself up within his own nature." When things go wrong he must 
always "seek the cause within himself," and not try to fasten blame 
upon others. As one can see, the standard is exacting and high. 

Confucius' gentleman is also a gentleman in our own sense of that 
delicate word. Above all he must never actively seek his own self- 
interest, or place himself in any way before others if to do so would 
contravene strict ethical justice. It is such ingrained courtesies that 
make the old-type Chinese so respected and superior a figure. 

In his pronouncements Confucius never leaves us in any doubt 
about precisely what he considers that a gentleman is and what he 
does. The moral is drawn as clearly as in a Victorian novel. Good is 



130 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

good, finally and definitely; and bad is bad. Here are no mocking and 
subtle Taoist paradoxes; here also is no excess of delusive Buddhist 
emotion. There is the Princely Man, a paragon of virtue, in every way 
superior; and contrasted with him the Little Man, small in character 
and mean in action. In the Chinese Classics these two are usually dis- 
played together in contrasting formulae, made of short sentences regu- 
lar in meter, easy to memorize and thus to carry through life. The 
recorded sayings of the sage abound in them. "The Princely Man is 
harmonious and independent: the Little Man takes sides and is not 
agreeable"; and so on. Examples run into dozens. One could always 
know exactly where rectitude lay, commit its precepts to memory, and 
then observe how it contrasted with inferior behavior. 

Let us try, briefly, to define the Princely Man, this pre-eminent man 
of breeding. What were his ideals? L/'--decorum, politeness, proper 
manners was one of the essentials. How is one to stand, or sit; when, 
and where? Upon what occasions does one use the deep prostration 
of the kowtow, and then how many times? When does one yield 
place to another? How far to the outer gate does one escort a parting 
guest, and through what number of courtyards? These are, to the 
practicing Confucian, matters of importance. 

There are many refinements. There must never be touching of 
persons, no physical contact. Above all one should avoid immature, 
offensive, enthusiasm. A Chinese, be it remembered, used formerly 
to shake his own hands, not yours. Even today, to offer a Chinese of 
the old school a chair so recently used by another as still to retain a 
little human warmth is socially a gesture quite unacceptable. The 
proper management of one's breathing is also essential. To a Chinese 
any breath can offend. At the old court ceremonies most elaborate 
precautions were taken lest a subject so contaminate the Emperor. The 
ivory tablets, held upright with both hands, shown so frequently in 
Chinese paintings of scenes of audience, were used primarily for this 
purpose, to shield the mouth; although the ivory besides being pre- 
sumably endowed with natural purifying qualities, was also used as 
a convenient surface to write upon. I have had it told to me, by one of 
my teachers, that courtiers could thus conveniently have within eye- 
range a most surprising command of facts, if the Emperor were sud- 
denly to require information. 



Princely Men and Little 131 

Every circumstance was similarly prepared for, and a polite manner 
evolved of managing otherwise awkward situations. To give an ex- 
ample, on an official visit to a government bureau, or yamen, the 
superior officer, whether host or guest, held by rank the privilege of 
ending an interview. How could this be done so as never to be brusque, 
yet to call a halt at the moment when the superior wished it. The 
method, although indirect, was simplicity itself. Tea was of course 
served when the visit began, as an elementary politeness. And the 
first cup or two could be drunk, upon invitation, without constraint* 

When the time came to end a conversation, however, after a pause 
in the tea-drinking, the superior officer, whether host or guest, merely 
raised his cup to his lips. This was the signal; and reputedly the 
waiting servants were so well trained, and this was all so much a 
convention, that even as the cup was touched one could hear the cry 
relayed outside to the entrance courtyards: "The chair of the Hon- 
orable So-and-So!" There were thus never awkward pauses, no inept 
pleas of shortage of time, or other engagements. Social movement 
progressed evenly and smoothly. This is typical of formal Chinese 
manners; they furnish a sure path if one is duly instructed. Here are 
no upsetting dangers to face, no risk of the impromptu going astray. 

Chinese anecdotes abound with examples of how, to every human 
situation, there must exist an elegant solution, or failing this at least 
a conventional withdrawal like a classical move in chess by which 
decorum still can safely be preserved. Over the centuries this has pro- 
duced a certain petrification, as might be expected; but instructive 
examples of such behavior, precious anecdotes illuminating the long 
range of Chinese history, are often marvelously concise and effective. 
Their expression has not seldom been given final form in a single 
phrase, in which one variety of human experience has been so con- 
densed as to remain henceforth imperishable. This is what it means 
to have ever at hand the garnered experience of centuries of high 
civilization. 

I shall give a single instance of such a petrifact. A common short 
phrase, a compact group of four Chinese characters only, to illustrate 
a common human situation in marital relations, runs simply "to cast 
water [in] front [of a] horse." What can this mean; what is the 
riddle? 



132 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

The anecdote is as follows. Once a poor man and his wife disagreed, 
and she selfishly abandoned him before he rose high in the world* 
Years later, repenting, to shame him and thus force him to take her 
back, she appeared at his yamen announcing herself as his rightful 
wife, and requesting admission. 

The wily husband was not now thus to be caught. Yet he was aware 
that he must receive her. Summoning his full retinue, therefore, he 
mounted his horse, and gave orders to have her enter the main court. 
His position was one of dignity. Would he take her back? Yes, he 
would indeed consent. But first he bade a servant bring a basin of 
water. Then, using the gesture as an allegory, before the entire assem- 
bly he cast the water to the ground in front of his horse. "I bid you 
only dutifully to gather this basin of water back again," he said, "and 
then you are still my rightful wifel" 

In the theater, at the storytellers', in reading or conversation, the 
Chinese seem to find special enjoyment in such examples, incidents 
gleaned from this or that heroic tale, or else from the action of some 
clever actor on the stage of life. Thus they may learn deft procedure, 
which although never departing from strict decorum may still make 
it possible to have one's way in the world. 

There is another facet. Familiar euphemisms to circumvent the ugly 
facts of life abound. If a child, for example, dies in infancy, within a 
few days of its birth, its parents may save face, in what they consider 
their embarrassingly frustrated appearance to the world, merely by an- 
nouncing: "We threw the baby away!" ("We, therefore, did not want 
it!**) If an Emperor died of smallpox, the official announcement calmly 
proclaimed that "he had come out with heavenly flowers, and has now 
ascended the dragon throne." Everyone knew exactly what was meant; 
yet it sounded well. Such obliquity can occasionally quite shock a 
Westerner by a callous glossing over of evil, only negligently concealed 
in grandiloquent travesty. 

Yet the intention is not always cynical. However ill a friend may 
be, if one inquires concerning his condition, his family invariably re- 
plies: "He is better, a little." This goes on even when his end is ob- 
viously near; indeed his death may then be announced with a broad 
smile. In the whole language, for public statement, there are no Chinese 



Princely Men and Little 133 

words for bad and ugly. The nearest one can come to them, except in 
vulgar speech, is to state that something "not good" or "not beauti- 
ful" Thus the ordinary Chinese saves appearances; and these are of 
great importance to him. He would not know how to act otherwise in 
public without being guilty of some shaming breach of precious H 9 
which serves him as a decent covering, almost as a second skin. For a 
Westerner no amount of intimacy with Chinese of the polite classes 
will break this down. It is best by far merely to accede to the conven- 
tions, and much more restful. 

The Princely Man, further, must be magnanimous. The Chinese are 
very sensitive to breadth of character and largeness of action. They 
love'to contemplate han yang or "elevated nurture," and its expression 
in tranquil composure. One scene in a popular play, where a cele- 
brated general receives the news of a great victory through a message 
that finds him in the midst of a game of chess, and never budges by 
so much as a hair to indicate its contents until the game's end out of 
perfect courtesy to his opponent seems literally always to fascinate 
the audience. This is obviously their ideal of a magnificent gesture, of 
completed character. 

As in other lands, this magnanimity at its finest takes the form of 
forgiveness, even of forgetfulness, of past injuries, of scrupulous re- 
straint in the very circumstances that would be seized upon by meaner 
characters. In contention, the Princely Man "never snatches away what 
another holds dear" avoiding action, finally, until if possible he can 
control it after his own manner. 

In following this ideal, there is even among simple people a curious 
group effort to spur an erring member of a community to better con- 
duct. If his character has in it some glaring defect, if he gambles, or 
drinks to excess, for example, his circle of friends may arrange to give 
him what is tantamount to a surprise banquet. All goes well; every- 
one assembles with good will and cheer. Then, when the company is 
in high spirits, and conviviality is general, he is presented with a ring. 
On it will be engraved a Chinese character naming the virtue that 
through love of him they now wish him to acquire. Such chieh or 
"avoidance" rings bid him abstain from a shortcoming below his best 
self. The token in such a form is also to remind him constantly bow to 



THE TEAR3 THAT WERE 



improve himself with the best wishes o his friends. I remember once 
seeing a bus inspector, in a small and very crowded vehicle, squeezing 
about trying to verify fares. On his hand I happened to notice one of 
these rings: the Chinese character on it read "Patience." 

How opposed, how indifferent to all these endeavors is the character 
of the Little Man! Here is no meliorism, no concern with the flavor of 
goodness, or openness to the spell cast by magnanimous behavior. The 
Little Man, in China, is simply a gross and self-centered Sancho Panza, 
in contrast to whatever may be quixotic, or unworkable, in the Con- 
fucian ideal. Certainly he is of the earth, and at times he can be very 
earthy indeed. 

To begin with, he lives very much by, and for, his gut. This seems 
his chief sensory organ; and a well-filled one is obviously for him the 
most reliable satisfaction in life. It may here not be out of place to 
attempt to explain this a little. In a society such as the Chinese, where 
even today living remains most elementary, the need to procure food 
is imperative. Eating, if possible pleasurable eating, comes before all 
else. There is everyday insistence upon this, and obvious satisfaction in 
consuming food in large groups. 

Banqueting, even gorging, helps to relieve a latent major fear 
that of some time, in some circumstance, going hungry. The Chinese 
promptly insist that if you are their friend you will eat with them; 
and they very soon begin hoping that in return you will also give 
them a banquet. Thus are profitable relations cemented. It is because 
of the underlying insecurity of their economy, I believe, and also be- 
cause of the agricultural pattern of the Chinese community generally, 
that such parties for eating together are by all odds the most important 
and the most frequent in Chinese society; indeed once the eating stops 
the party breaks up. The amount of total income spent on food in 
China becomes, because of this, very much greater than with us. From 
high to low, everyone expects it, and knows that it is expected of him 
in return. 

No Chinese, whatever his nurture, needs convincing of the prime 
rank of the actual pleasures of the table. They all enjoy food enor- 
mously, eat in general every edible product except milk and beef 



Princely Men and Little 135 

known to man; and they talk about food incessantly. (One does not 
say "How do you do?" as a greeting, but "Have you eaten?") The 
Princely Man, even in this superior, does watch his table manners; 
but all the rest have few or almost none at least of our kind. Cere- 
mony, at the table, is chiefly concerned with one's place about it, and 
not overmuch with niceties in conveying food to or from the mouth, 
Confucius, indeed, did give certain quite careful directions for conduct 
at meals although personally I never saw them much observed. The 
etiquette of seating, however, and above all of urging one's companions 
'to a better place, remains elaborate. Once precedence has been deter- 
mined, though, one senses that the average Chinese feels that nothing 
further should be permitted to constrain him from taking proper 
pleasure in his food. 

Surely this wholehearted enjoyment is reasonable; some of the hap- 
piest hours of life in China, as in any other land, are spent convivially 
at table. Indeed Chinese pleasure in food is so gleeful, and the long 
banquets are so broken up with games, with jests and good cheer 
generally, that one must leave Confucius far behind, with his rigid 
advocacy of silence during meals, if one wishes to be merry in China 
as she is! Puritan deprecation of this continuous insistence upon food 
and the preoccupation with eating it in the company of friends may 
free one from some of the Little Men; but it would be a rather solitary 
China one would choose to dwell in* 

Drunkenness, on the other hand, is quite rare especially public 
drunkenness. (In Japan circumstances are different.) One is told, or 
reads, of stupendous bouts; but when one hears such proverbs as "If 
one dislike a man, half a bowl is too much; if there is a true affinity 
one hundred are too few," one must remember that a Chinese wine 
bowl is after all of miniature size. By our present-day standards, most 
of the heated rice wine is also not very powerful. Moreover, Chinese 
banquets last for so long, and vociferous games such as the ever-popular 
"guess finger" like our own "scissors cut paper" are continued so 
lustily, played with so much shouting and laughter, that one literally 
wears off die effects of the wine progressively. 

Westerners have been known to return from a Chinese feast ap- 
parently replete; then, after a few hours, the chopped and highly 



!^6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

flavored food already half digested when served, prepared moreover to 
be eaten chiefly for taste, with the mild wine, leave them wondering 
themselves at how little they feel satisfied. In matters both of food and 
drink, we in the West have quite other methods of replenishing our 
energies than have the more sensitive, the less heroic and more delicate, 
Chinese. 

Let us continue, though, with the Little Man's defects, not to un- 
cover the seamy side so much as to make our picture true to life. The 
instinctive interest that the Chinese take in the material goods of this* 
world, their absorption with and pleasure in the properties of even 
the most trivial objects, have led to quite contrasting results. On the 
one hand this sensitiveness has made them one of the great artistic 
nations. The Chinese eye, and Chinese hands, seem in the past to have 
been capable of drawing from matter, any matter, charmed beauty that 
is unrivaled. Contrariwise their insistence on the material has also 
made them, in the affairs of daily life, a mercenary people. 

In considering this last result, one is at the outset confronted with a 
curious and far-reaching paradox. This nation, which so enjoys the 
possession of physical property, takes abominable care of it. Upkeep, 
in general, is simply nonexistent. There are almost no exceptions to 
this. Whether or not they may plead extenuating circumstances, the 
Chinese allow everything to run down. Palaces are not renewed or 
repainted; their furnishings literally fall to pieces. Highly original ef- 
fects, in every branch of the arts, planned with care and executed with 
patience, once achieved then seem no longer of interest. Disorder, neg- 
lect, major degradation of property, supervene everywhere. Everything 
finally becomes a litter, tatters, wisps, and shreds; material is first run 
down and then run out of existence. There are moments when this 
produces revulsion in Western breasts. 

The Chinese know this of themselves. They know how their en- 
thusiasm comes always at the beginning of an enterprise, and is only 
with difficulty sustained through it: "The head of the dragon; the tail 
of a snake" goes a familiar proverb. So everything runs down; and in 
the hands of the poor, constantly pressing upon the bare means of sub- 
sistence, property is literally used until it vanishes. Yet these forces are 
at work through the whole social structure. Here the Chinese are at 



Princely Men and Little 157 

absolutely opposite poles from a cleanly, foresighted, and provident 
people like, for example, the Dutch in Europe. Rather than undergo 
the drudgery of daily care, rather than subject oneself to the constant 
discipline of proper upkeep, one will always do with worse; finally 
one will actually do without! 

Anyone who has kept house in China knows how unceasing is the 
exhortation necessary for the simplest tasks demanding routine effort. 
If the project is new, and therefore interesting, the dragon's head will 
appear at once, all splendid with horns and fangs, the beast curvetting 
and breathing noble vapor! Yet ask to have a foreign-style hardwood 
floor regularly waxed, as did my missionary friends, or order that a 
piece of machinery be carefully wiped so that it will not rust in damp 
weather, and the snake's tail will slide away from under the door. 

One result of this, as the prosperity that marked the long reign of 
Ch'ien Lung declined and then vanished in the agonies of the nine- 
teenth century, was a lowering of living standards so drastic that those 
who have only read of China and its splendors in books, and have 
never actually lived in the country, cannot conceive of it. The first 
shock is a major one. In Peking there was apparently not a single 
family, even among those in easy circumstances, that lived in what 
we should call basic comfort, or even general amenity! Here and there 
one aspect or another might be stressed; one collector would havfe a 
fine array of seals; another might be found enjoying his goldfish. But 
to have everything well maintained, above all to keep carefully ap- 
pointed property in good condition and in smart order; this apparently 
never really enters Chinese heads. To the average Chinese, moreover, 
the Western determination to achieve just this seems actually a de- 
plorable and most uncomfortable waste of energy. 

So everything tumbled down, neglect brought ruin even in places 
where it ill could be afforded; and the Chinese lived on, ineffectively 
and cheerfully, in complete disorder. Worst of all, from a practical 
point of view, no one could be made to give sustained attention to any 
project a railway, the installation of a piece of important machinery, 
or even the upkeep of a single object if its maintenance required con- 
tinuing and disciplined labor* (This fact, as much as any, explains why 
there is no modern Chinese navy.) 

Yet for all this, physical property and above all the money with 



138 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

which to buy it were almost never absent from Chinese minds. In 
walking along a street, perhaps a majority of the conversations one 
overheard involved questions of price or value. "How much was this?" 
"What did you spend for that?" "How much, today, can one buy it 
for?" "How much salary do you now earn?" 

One's salary is never long a secret, by the way, in China. Li Hung- 
Ch'ang, her great emissary to the West at the end of the last century, 
consistently followed his native custom, it is said, in his relations with 
those whom he met in foreign countries. He had two habitual ques- 
tions. If he was presented to a woman: "How old is she?" If a man 
was introduced to him: "What, then, is he worth?" The Chinese 
among themselves talk perpetually, unashamedly, of money; many of 
their best dreams must be made perfect by its appearance! 

Yet one must not be without understanding. Life presses constantly 
upon a population overlarge even for the vast area although often not 
too rich geographically that it occupies. It is no wonder that the prime 
safeguard against sudden catastrophe, the best remedy if it should ar- 
rive, is indeed just this: material possession, or better still, portable 
wealth in any and every form. There are certain grateful and glowing 
exceptions. The literary man, especially if he is a Confucian scholar, 
can at times show a moral disinterestedness that many Westerners 
might envy. By his education he has been made aware of how lovely, 
in its calm detachment, is the sensation of perfect internal purity. 

For a handful of such men, nevertheless, there are thousands of 
coarser clay, the porcine, the groundlings. The merchant classes, iden- 
tifiable at a glance, especially when they have achieved prosperity, and 
all their families, seem to think only on the material plane. This gross- 
ness is vast; -and can be very repellent. The poetry of life seems scarcely 
to touch such individuals, perpetually occupied with bargaining and 
trading, with buying and selling; and there is enough of this attitude 
in all classes to give Chinese society, in retrospect, a rather brazen ring. 

Another characteristic that every Chinese I have ever known pos- 
sesses, bred into his fiber, is his sense of belonging to an order of things 
loftier, by far, than any introduced to China from the West. I have 
never observed a single exception to this attitude; it engenders a doc- 



Princely Men and Little 139 

trinaire conviction of superiority as by birth, quite irrespective o 
whether pertinent facts are in glaring contradiction or not. At its best 
this gives complete self-respect to one of the large divisions of man- 
kind; at its worst it degenerates into quite unjustifiable conceit. 

The young college student in China is in general absolutely sure 
that everything he studies about the West only proves that it cannot 
achieve what his own country has already enjoyed in past centuries. 
He therefore sooner or later finds one part of his intellect in violent 
conflict with another; and he is fortunate if he does not at some stage 
develop, as one of the maladies of his intellectual adolescence, a case 
of virulent anti-foreignism. What he can never understand is why the 
West, since it is so obviously and basically inferior, has yet achieved 
such ascendancy. 

At times his progress may lead to ludicrous episodes. In the period 
immediately preceding the Japanese occupation, in a foreign-adminis- 
tered institution of learning near Peking, the undergraduates decided 
that as in Western colleges they too should have that novelty, a Re- 
serve Officers' Training Corps, to school themselves in the art of defy- 
ing their hated enemy. The head of this "dragon" immediately became 
magnificent. These young men were going to show, with uniforms 
also, how in every way they were adequate even to the military stand- 
ards of the strong if untutored West, which they were momentarily 
condescending to copy. 

All went well for a brief time, until the actuality of Spartan rising 
for early drill became insupportable for the intelligent young men 
that these young men knew themselves to be. A planned adjustment 
or fa-tzu about which we shall hear later got them out of their 
predicament. Their local bugler was bribed, no less, to take punish- 
ment, if this should be inflicted, for "forgetting" to sound reveille. 
Their own faces would remain without a flaw, for if they were ques- 
tioned about their non-appearance, had they not a most plausible ex- 
cuse? 

The bugler first did not blow; but then was ordered to blow again. 
This continued intermittently, until they decided at a meeting held 
to consider the problem, to abandon an experiment that it was ob- 
vious was continually being interrupted by this unfortunate hitch. 



140 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Such was their variety o intelligence; and yet they probably still won- 
dered why the coarse Westerner had more power. 

Nothing seems to shake the conviction that the superiority is innate. 
It drove the diplomats of the nineteenth century to distraction. Illit- 
erate coolies in rags have it; the very dogs of China have it, to the last 
mongrel in the lane. (The lofty breed of Pekingese self-consciously re- 
fuses even to consider the question.) To both man and beast, foreigners 
obviously have only imperfect information concerning the proper order 
of the world, an order which all of them, as by divine right, simply 
know. 

This makes true friendship with Chinese so difficult as to be almost 
non-existent, whatever wishful tales one may hear to the contrary. No 
matter how much courtesy, how much enlightened self-interest a Chi- 
nese brings to the affair, he is constantly making comparisons which 
are either invidious, or worse still, necessitate placing part of his own 
superiority in the realm of the invisible where it does not rest easy in 
times like our own. 

A further irritant is Western vitality, only too obvious, too bouncing 
and bounding. This offends his sense of the fitting; but it also wearies 
him physically. If one can restrict the area of friendship to suave cour- 
tesies and the gentler phases of life, the Chinese are among the most 
civilized and charming companions in the world. The very gradation 
of their smiles puts to shame our cruder variety. The andante tempo 
of the whole relationshipas I have heard it expressed brings with 
it the balm of repose. But let there arise some incident calling for 
sterner stuff, and a certain evasiveness, a retractility that I shall pres- 
ently discuss, soon appears, however ingeniously framed are pretexts 
and excuses. 

One must understand this with some sympathy even if, as a good 
Westerner, one cannot but deplore it. Westerners seem to possess more 
ready, as opposed to enduring, vitality, than the slighter Chinese if 
perhaps only because of their stronger frame and richer diet. This is 
important. The Chinese survive hardily, not even finding conditions 
too distressing, where we should soon perish; but for daily use they 
can seldom muster, and then waste, so much violent and expendable 



Princely Men and Little 141 

energy. Westerners are also in general accustomed to live under condi- 
tions of much greater personal safety, even today, than are the Chinese; 
and their habitually more light-hearted attitude constantly reflects this. 
The Westerner further has habits of frankness, whatever the situation, 
of action sic volo sic jubeo, that to a Chinese are inexplicable even 
when they are not in his eyes extremely rash. 

The ready way in which one Westerner attacks another and is at- 
tacked in turn, in the ordinary give and take of social life, obviously 
neither fearing to lose face nor at all alarmed lest relations be im- 
periled by such sallies, is to the Chinese a strange business. "Draw in 
on an adversary only if you are absolutely sure that you can demolish 
him; and who can be positive?" they seem to reflect. "If not, though, 
leave room for the turns of fortune, for compromise. Do not offend!" 

In the common relations of friendship the two parties. Eastern and 
Western, therefore do not want the same thing. So it is small wonder 
if intimacy usually fails to develop, unless there is in Chinese eyes a 
chance of continuing profit in it; and then one may witness prodigies 
of loyalty and personal devotion. This alone may explain why so 
many who have lived in the East never have done praising their house- 
hold servants. A few fine souls, of course, will maintain the highest 
standards even when it is not to their interest. This is rare among a 
nation of individualists; but, then, surely it is rare anywhere. 

The time comes inevitably when the Westerner and the Chinese part. 
Sooner or later the Westerner leaves the land where even legally he is 
only a guest for until most recently he could not purchase outright 
an inch of Chinese soil. He has also probably been treated as an un- 
disciplined even if amusing, romping, child, and a very spoiled one at 
that; but this has been in part by the force of temporary circumstances. 
Then, some day, he returns to his own "external country,' 7 leaving the 
local Chinese, in their own estimation, where they have been all along, 
in the "central" one. 

This last, be it here remarked, is the only name the Chinese have for 
China. Even the republic, today, is still officially named the Central 
Flowery People's Country. Here politeness, contrary to custom, con- 
cedes no superiority to what belongs to another: this matter is vital. 



1^2 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

China is the center; and there is to be no doubt of it. The postulate 
remains strictly true for all except the thinnest fringe of educated 
Chinese university students; and they, in public estimation, are beings 
with destinies apart, no longer completely members of the larger body 
public. 

Unhappily inspired is the Westerner who attempts to demonstrate 
to simple folk how little this corresponds with present-day facts. Smiles 
of superficial "polite" assent with no knowledge of geography to 
bring upsetting doubts are often made bright from a light of amuse- 
ment within. "How can any other people pretend to anything like the 
grand design of Chinese millennial civilization; especially those who 
know no characters, who have obviously acquired only a most imper- 
fect sense of 'ruler-and-compass,' or decorum and politeness, who con- 
stantly stalk wildly about in truncated clothes instead of moving evenly 
and with dignity in proper long ones who act in short much like 
excitable madmen?" 

The very physical characteristics of the Westerner, hair that is often 
red or yellow, not even hair color which is of course black prove 
this to him. Their physical smell, reminding him of mutton, nauseates 
him; at times violently, so that it is difficult to control. Their bodies, 
large and coarsely shaped, are horrid with fuzz, quite unlike his own 
smooth skin; their prominent bony noses are also not like his, deli- 
cately flat and spreading; their strange-colored eyes "tiger eyes" 
prove that nature has made them, whatever their present ascendancy, 
permanently inferior to his own brethren, who at least have more 
human appearance and are aware of proper deportment. 

Westerners in China actually do often appear an indecent, coarse, 
bright or else turgid rose, laced with purple. The light makes fine 
Chinese skin, by contrast, seem not so yellow but instead a much more 
agreeable color. All people look and also smell much less pleasant 
away from their own soil. No Chinese has ever seemed to me half so 
natural and attractive in the West as in his own land. In a Western 
sack suit, aping Western brusqueness and cultivating a businesslike 
manner, the student loses half his charm. Even his facial expression 
changes; he no longer represents the best of his breed. Why should not 



Princely Men and Little 143 

the reverse of this, as it affects the impression we make upon the Chi- 
nese when in their country, also be true? 

Here is another Great Wall, immense in extent, but like the real 
one a barrier that has never kept out conquerors determined seriously 
to breach it in their time of might. The average Chinese, however, 
is resigned to this. By now in almost every part of his own land he 
has seen "external country" men. Yet he rests secure. No matter what 
the times have brought, however violent may have been recent irrup- 
tions, it is his feeling that some day the tide is bound to recede. Thus 
it has always been since the events of far-off history. The Chinese, 
being superior, even to the obvious physical details of their bodies, must 
eventually, even passively, triumph. This is a conviction. 

There is another trait in Chinese character to which I was able to 
apply a more or less fitting word only after a long search. This I have 
called, for want of any existing and more familiar expression, retrac- 
tility. The Chinese variety of sensitiveness is more like that of the 
herbivores than the carnivores: safety through flight is its first law. At 
the slightest sign of danger, if he can do so an ordinary Chinese will 
promptly remove himself physically from the spot. "Of the thirty-six 
ways of handling all possible human situations," runs a common say- 
ing, "flight is safest!" This is a tempting, and surely a prudent course 
of action, in lands where private liberty is not guaranteed by law, as 
with us. For if a personal mishap occurs, no intransigeant appeal to 
abstract justice is possible, at least practically. We must understand 
this before we condemn. 

Even in trivial matters, however, if a remote possibility of danger is 
sensed, it is second nature for a Chinese to draw in at once. "There will 
always be time," he seems to tell himself, "to come to an actual en- 
gagement with an adversary, later, when more is known." Meanwhile 
avoidance is instinctive. The consequence, in Chinese life, is a constant 
maneuvering for temporary position, an ingrained unwillingness to 
face any definite issue squarely and bluntly. This perpetual motility 
with its finely calculated variants of conduct makes the Chinese a very 
subtle people. As a technique it is understood and is used by abso- 
lutely everybody; it works with almost reflex promptness. 



144 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

In social relations I never discovered but one counter-maneuver; for 
to advance while a Chinese was retreating would merely have made 
him decide to retire still more rapidly as far back into his defenses 
as was physically possible. If, however, one let him understand that his 
withdrawal was clearly perceived, and if with sensitiveness at the same 
time one also withdrew into one's own territory, just so much and 
also no more, one might arrest and finally even stop his withdrawal. 
It was reassuring to him to discover in a Westerner an awareness 
similar to his own, which perhaps he had not anticipated; and he 
would perhaps reflect that complete withdrawal, no longer urgently 
necessary, might end by destroying a relation he wished to preserve, 
even in the hope that its price would eventually be paid by his ad- 
versary. 

Then, in cases that ran smoothly, each could afford to advance once 
more; and if mutual timing were good, it was often possible to end 
with enhanced confidence and in complete accord. One false step dur- 
ing the preliminary retractile period, however, and like an untamed 
and shy animal, a timid Chinese might never again be persuaded to 
go near ground where once he had been frightened. As time went on, 
I learned that by employing this technique of slow motion, and by 
never overwhelming anyone with a sudden release of energy, I kept 
my Chinese friends, where other extremely goodhearted although ex- 
cessively forthright Westerners might lack them. 

Yet at best there were sharp limits to Chinese friendship. One of 
the chief of them, I believe, came from mutual lack of intellectual es- 
teem, even when a personal balance had finally been established. This 
caused many East-West friendships gradually to wilt. The Chinese 
began with internal condescension. Then the Westerner, conscious of 
his unassailable mechanical superiority, if nothing else, sooner or later, 
refined or coarse, began himself to soliloquize somewhat contemp- 
tuously about the whole race when dealing with them on this level. 
Inevitably the Chinese sensed this; he in the course of the relation had 
been measuring Western action by his standards, and usually had also 
found it lacking. He might then think his own thoughts, maintaining 
an ambiguous attitude, half politeness and half rejection, which it was 
almost impossible, certainly very difficult, to penetrate. In the world, 



Princely Men and Little 145 

invariably, the Westerner somehow had the advantage, certainly every 
economic advantage. In Chinese eyes, however, he used his valuable 
power for puerile amusement, and finally he lacked all sense o a 
proper scale by which true civilization must be measured. If language 
formed a still further barrier, while no actual conflict might occur the 
two camps almost inevitably ended by losing touch as time wore away 
the novelty of the relation. 

There was another aspect of Chinese relations to which one also had 
to give earnest attention: the necessity of constant precaution lest one 
harm another's "face." The West has long known this. Politically, and 
at their worst, the Chinese have habitually used their pride as an outer 
barbican, erected purposely to impede. Yet an extreme sensitiveness 
about personal dignity is ever present in Chinese minds, and the 
slightest incident may perturb it. So marked is this preoccupation that 
it colors all personal relations. Historically it has created that peculiarly 
Chinese phenomenon, the middleman, whose role between two sensi- 
tive antagonists takes on in China proportions unknown, I believe, 
elsewhere. 

When both sides are notoriously thin-skinned, an intermediary is 
indeed indispensable. He makes it possible to proceed by finer degrees 
of movement than under any tactic of direct attack, which might draw 
blood at once; and both sides favor him since in an altercation he must 
carefully allow the vanquished, whoever he may be, to heal his wounds 
unobserved by the world. No one will then have seen the damaging 
blow delivered except this one man, whose own face would be lost 
did he not, in such a delicate matter, observe complete discretion. 

So easy is it to wound this Chinese sense of dignity by the merest 
thoughtless word, the slightest gesture, such as, for example, snapping 
the fingers which for some reason to the Chinese is simply infuriat- 
ing and so difficult is it for these wounds to heal, that I was much 
helped in comprehending such phenomena when I invented for this 
quite special condition the name of an imaginary disease, "spiritual 
hemophilia." 

Hemophilia indeed it is. The patient inherits the tendency at birth; 
it is a liability engendered after a lengthy process of breeding, and it 



146 THE YEARS THAT WERE PAT 

is a constitutional lack. No secretion can surely staunch such wounds 
and make them heal. Lesions that might in the West be only a mo- 
mentary scratch o slight annoyance, in China are not healed even 
after the passage of months. The bleeding may be internal, but it is 
none the less deadly; and the foreigner who does not know what is 
happening, may only irritate a condition that at times approaches the 
morbid. 

Fortunately the disease is not always so intense as this. Sensitive 
good humor rapidly applied is often of salutary effect. Yet in the use 
of language itself, the greatest precautions have been devised to safe- 
guard personal dignity, to stress what is agreeable, and to avoid at any 
cost what is unpleasant. 

Death is never mentioned, for example, in phrases of formal polite- 
nessalthough commonly enough in daily gossip. One simply states 
"when one hundred years have passed, then ..." A friend's father is, 
or used to be, invariably and somewhat pompously, his "stern prince"; 
his mother, obliquely, his "revered hall," where presumably she dwelt. 
Such varieties of euphemism are familiar, to be sure, in all tongues. 
Yet to the average Westerner they seem carried to remarkable lengths 
in China even in the ordinary exchanges of daily life. For instance, 
one may meet a friend who has grown stout; and wish to remark on 
it. How can one express this simple thought? A compliment is made: 
"Elder Born So-and-So has put forth happiness!" So of course, the im- 
plication follows, it is now visible in this most satisfactory way. Exam- 
ples of such circumlocutions, often quite elaborate, surprised me from 
my first day in the Orient until the last; and new examples still turn 
up constantly. 

There is further a convention of humility, which continues to be ob- 
served even in our "democratic" present. It makes one exception: the 
primary assumption, as we have seen, that China herself is central 
to all. Aside from this, everything that is one's own one's possessions, 
one's abilities, even one's name must be expressed as less in value 
than that of the person one has addressed. "What is your precious 
name; your lofty age?" The answers, to be learned simply as a formula, 
are "My humble name; my lowly age," invariably. There are even 
several gradations of expression, conferring lesser or greater honor, 



Princely Men and Little 147 

from which one selects that appropriate for the presumed "loftiness'* 
of the age considered. 

A formal invitation to a party becomes a request to "lend brilliance" 
by one's presence. There is no end to the number of opposite pairs: 
"your deep palace" versus "my grass hall"; "your excellent food" as 
against "there is no food" that is to be mentioned as even worthy of 
the name, one must infer, even at a banquet one has just been served. 
These set phrases for high and low, for thine and mine, run unerringly, 
or used so to run, through every form of polite discourse. 

In writing it is even more complex. Every time the person written 
to, or his qualities, or his possessions, were mentioned in the old- 
style letter, and often even today, a new line must be begun. A polite 
epistle finally resembles a fringe of hanging willow fronds; one must 
repeatedly go up to the top of the paper since Chinese writing is 
vertical to descend again. 

This process is known as "elevation." For any mention concerning 
the Emperor, in the past one had solemnly to elevate a space of several 
characters outside and above the normal margin. The characters for 
his forebears, if there were need to refer to them, the writing of their 
actual names was of course severely proscribed were raised even 
higher still. Official documents with much mention of sovereigns thus 
had ruled top borders looking somewhat like a fantastic crenelation; 
yet no one of education could afford to be in doubt about what number 
of these units of elevation was considered properly respectful. 

One might from this description acquire a totally false impression, 
imagining rigid and severe formulae prescribing all the details of Chi- 
nese social life, a set code with no room for human grace. This would 
be far from the truth. Spontaneity, and a saving appreciation of humor, 
are far too ingrained in Chinese nature especially in contrast with 
Japanese to permit this. Ease of conduct, indeed, is almost the cri- 
terion. I have seen men prostrate themselves in the kowtow so lithely, 
so naturally, that one was left wondering how it could be that this 
deepest of genuflexions was being performed with apparently less 
bother, and in not much more time, than we should use merely for a 
very slow formal bow. 



148 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Under the old system this whole code of etiquette was so ingrained 
that it was observed with a minimum of conscious thought. "Polite- 
ness of position" as one might describe it, known to everyone, main- 
tained assurance for all. Where it has been abolished, as in present-day 
China, manners or rather the lack of them can become very bad 
indeed. In his halting attempts to fashion even a rudimentary modern 
code, the Chinese of today seems quite lost, unable to borrow effectively 
from abroad and coming too late himself for the one system that in 
the past furnished secure authority. 

East and West, finally, direct their considerateness, which is the 
basis of true courtesy, toward quite different things. Privacy, which we 
value so highly, does not seem to be among Chinese attainables. Un- 
feigned curiosity, unsuppressed comment, even simple determination 
to push forward wherever entrance is not specifically forbidden, are 
universal traits among the lower classes; and although often innocent 
enough in intent, they never cease to annoy us, often more than 
slightly* On the other hand, our lack of a sense of gradation, for use 
even in common speech, our prompt and ready solutions, above all 
our active execution of them, breaking down personal safeguards and 
the saving assurances that the Chinese have so carefully built up about 
themselves: all these are to them offensive and even alarming behavior. 

Such constant tendencies toward mutual divergence are among the 
realities of any social relation between different peoples. In all nations, 
also, the Little Men must ever vastly outnumber those whose nur- 
ture has been more delicate. We must not in this world ask for too 
much; and remain grateful for what we have. The Princely Man, who 
knows this, accepts it with wisdom and cheer. In China, it is he who 
can best be our tranquil-hearted guide. 



CHAPTER ix Grandeur and Gentleness 



THE preceding chapter attempted to define certain traits in indi- 
vidual behavior, which make the Chinese man Chinese. There 
are also, however, certain abstract qualities that help to give Chinese 
life its particular character. Enveloping disparities, suffusing life in 
general, there brooded over Peking a proud consciousness of human 
achievement, of civilization attained, difficult indeed to define, but so 
pervasive that every passing visitor felt its spell. 

This atmosphere of an old court town did not, of course, represent 
die nation as a whole, even if it did preserve the best of the traditional 
China so rapidly vanishing. Part of the effect, further, was created by 
the surrounding region. Here one was in North China, with its high 
skies and broad prospects, with an ever-present suggestion of remote 
High Tartary beyond its wind-swept stretches. The impressions made 
by the landscape were intensified by effects of sharp light, occasionally 
of incredible brilliance. All this was completely lost as one moved 
toward the more humid South. 

The prime fact about the human geography of the region was that 
Peking had been one of China's chief capitals for centuries. This made 
differences in the most casual transactions of daily life. Even the un- 
lettered coolie could always "open-open eye" as the everyday idiom had 
it, and see about him myriad examples of mundane pleasure unrealiz- 
able in a provincial setting. 

The background for the actors in these public scenes was superb; 
doubtless man had chosen this place for its natural superiorities even 
before he had begun to transform it. The city was not on any impor- 

149 



150 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

tant river; large waterways were lacking. It merely lay in pleasant 
fertile open country, adjacent to the hills* In the past the advantages 
of this site had been vital. Peking had been near enough to the Great 
Wall writhing powerfully across the mountains, to the north so 
that when the central government was strong, it constituted an ideal 
assembly point for military forces. From its almost impregnable walls 
they could prompdy reach the scene of any irruption, and yet the city 
itself was not in the hills. 

Enhancing the site, as we have already seen, was the noble man- 
made scenery of its fortifications, and also the architectural treasure 
heaped within. The perspectives of rose and yellow, the wings and 
backdrops formed by countless walls and spirit screens, gave a theatrical 
effect to any action played against them. I believe that even the ordi- 
nary inhabitant had a feeling for this. Leave Peking, and one would 
never find such riches the length and breadth of China. Although the 
prodigality could be overwhelming, a gift of imperial largeness, it was 
not easy to bring to clarity the feelings it roused. Finally I chose for my- 
self to describe them the pair of words that heads this chapter. 

These two qualities grandeur and gentleness seldom occur in 
combination in the Western world. When we are grand we usually 
wish to be forceful, to display our grandeur; when we are gentle we 
become humble. Our willful energetic architecture, in the Gothic age 
a creation of almost pure thrust and counter-thrust, is a perfect ex- 
pression of this tendency. It contrasts revealingly in this old capital 
with the art governing the arrangement of the largest, most splendid 
palaces, which far from overawing, only the more spaciously displayed 
the grand balance that was their essence. Grandeur in Peking was not 
a display of tamed forces, but gentle much as a tranquil and dignified 
aged Chinese himself might be. Conversely, gendeness had about it a 
breadth and humanity that made the quality one of deep wisdom. 
Within a field made ever vital by this double polarity moved the daily 
life of the city. Where the West sought domination, the East had 
achieved harmony. 

Chinese grandeur, though, assumes a very different form from no- 
bility of the Western stamp. A story is told of a Chinese sage who was 



Grandeur and Gentleness 151 

begged to impart his wisdom in dealing with others. "The answer is 
indeed simple," said he. He thereupon called for ink and a brush, and 
also a large sheet of paper. These were brought, and he then began to 
cover the paper with Chinese characters. Only the characters were all 
the same, repetitions of a single one. The suppliant looked, and read: 
"Bear [with what is inevitable]; bear; bear!" 

This is conduct as preached by the sages, in the Chinese grand style. 
It implies long-lasting problems, a need for magnanimity and breadth 
of vision, for a workable philosophy. It is Eastern rather than Western 
in that it seeks freedom by internal liberation rather than by physical 
triumph. To a Chinese it has the stamp of true grandeur. One fits 
oneself inside situations, and ends by harmonizing rather than by ever 
attempting to crush. 

Chinese grandeur differed in many ways from that of Europe. The 
French thought of it typically it seemed to me in baroque terms, as 
a self-conscious and almost bellicose gesture, a demonstration. En- 
veloped in it a mortal might go upon his journey through life like 
some rot soleil down his garden perspectives. English "common sense" 
did not trust this. For the English, grandeur seemed more related to 
qualities of developed character, to the nobility of the solitary strug- 
gling individual. 

Neither of these forms,' however, included the natural good cheer, 
the relaxed and smiling acceptance of the humor of life, that in China 
are not incompatible with the grandest of living. Nor did the ordinary 
coolie ever need to fear that he might be debarred from sharing in 
these feelings by his place in the economic scheme. He was not handi- 
capped by a sense of false shame. He well knew how weak he was 
as were finally, all men in any ability to withstand, still less to oppose, 
the larger dispensations of fate. Yet his humor came partly from the 
fact that he realized not only how tiny but also how active a creature 
he was! It is the Chinese, we must remember, who of all peoples of 
high culture, have seen and depicted insects most sympathetically. 
Their fellow-feeling for such very small creatures as die cricket, to 
take an example, is indeed a native touch! It sings while it may, and 
when die season grows cold the typical Chinese will shelter it in a 
cage, even in the folds of his clothiog. 



152 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

Yet small and cheerful though man is, above all he has one splendid 
dignity, which has raised him above all other creatures on the earth. 
This is the possibility of a glowing, indeed a radiant, moral nature. 
Chinese history, Chinese philosophy, abound with anecdotes concern- 
ing the nobility of minuscule man in spite of all his handicaps and in- 
adequacies. He is little, yet he is able to smile with composure at the 
monstrous strength of brute nature. 

Another trait of the Chinese also removed them from the present- 
day world: they were a variety of man, except for the thinnest dilution 
of the nev^ly-educated, completely without science. Even in the past 
this was not so in Europe. In the civilization from which we spring, 
from early times, from the speculations of Roger Bacon through the 
experimenting of Galileo or of Leonardo da Vinci, and thence onward 
to a whole range of dignified figures such as Newton, we have always 
been passionately absorbed in a great probing of nature. This is some- 
thing that to the traditional Chinese seems little less than a profanation. 

Man with science, it must be admitted, has failed to attain the dig- 
nity and repose of man without it. Perhaps a Chinese legend will serve 
as an. allegory. Once upon a time the great Lord Buddha was discuss- 
ing this world with the very clever monkey who appears constantly in 
familiar tales of wonder. "At least," said the monkey somewhat ir- 
relevantly "I can run extremely well, faster and nimbler by far, I am 
certain, than yourself." To prove his words he straightway darted off, 
and ran away as rapidly as he could. 

Looking back he saw that he must surely have outdistanced his rival, 
who was not even in sight; but yet, for good measure, he kept on 
running. At last sheer lack of breath forced him to a halt. So he sat 
down monkey-fashion, panting, waiting for the Lord Buddha to catch 
up. There still was no sign of him. 

A slight haze about the monkey now began to lift; and as it did 
to his astonishment he saw that he was perched at the end of a finger- 
tip of a gigantic hand, the size of a mountain that of the Lord Buddha 
himself, effulgent in majesty. 

So appear certain agile Western efforts in the tranquil sight of 
Oriental grandeur. Man is always in danger of being too curious, of 



Grandetcr and Gentleness 153 

being more impetuous than wise. "With all these abominable inventions 
serving restless man," the Chinese philosopher seems to reflect, "how 
can all not end ill?" And indeed who can say finally whether the 
immanent wisdom of Asia may not yet transcend the machine. 

Yet in the West the airplane was early imagined. Our aerial navies 
battled in the central blue, in prophetic verses, before they were actu- 
ally created. Even today in the West, contrasted with contemporary 
Asia, we are making the transcendent changes imperative in fitting 
ourselves to a new science with far more awareness of its implications 
than we ourselves may realize. 

All such wresting of powerful unknown forces from the visible 
world, all our production of boundless transferable energy, simply do 
not appear as exciting activities to the average Chinese. What he cares 
about in nature is what he sees of it, obviously surrounding him; and 
even here he amuses himself by improvising his own conception of its 
laws. No natural urge toward practical experiment exists. It is so 
much pleasanter merely to invent explanations. 

My servant Hsu Jung once reassuringly told me, when we were dis- 
cussing the symptoms of head colds: "The whole space under the 
human skull is hollow, but it is conveniently connected with tubes 
leading both to the nose and ears." He chose for the moment to dis- 
regard certain facts that he himself must have known even if only 
from slaughtered animals in order to indulge in a much more ap- 
pealing use of his imagination. 

Thus it seems almost always to have been in matters scientific. The 
Chinese are an ingenious people; but this trait is different from scien- 
tific inventiveness. They enjoy contriving an original method of using 
the already known. Yet if a modicum of comfort for some minor need 
has been secured by such ingenuity, the search is over. The comfort 
itself is forthwith cheerfully enjoyed by those who can command it; 
and there is a minimum of curiosity to carry experimentation further. 
The great problems of motion, of light, or heat, have never been at- 
tacked on any grand scale in China. Donkeys, candles, and braziers 
still do all there that the common people ask of them. 

Consider the laws of perspective. For the Chinese the actual look of 
objects is different! Observe the drawing of the foreshortened rim of 



154 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

a vase in any traditional Chinese scroll. It is as imagined, rather than 
as actually seen. Anatomy? After all these centuries the human heart, 
in theory, remains for simple Chinese where they place it in familiar 
gesture, in the center of the chest. It distresses them to think of it as 
being actually to one side; so they prefer not to observe the anomaly 
too closely. 

The Westerner, therefore, often indeed almost laughs outright from 
sheer and obvious superiority of knowledge. Yet in our distracted 
present, when science blocks our view, it was illuminating to watch 
the life of a great people who inwardly did not possess even its rudi- 
ments, who had no feeling for it; and who continued to live, there- 
fore, much as our own forebears had lived in all the long stretch of 
the centuries before modernity. Imagination was free; and it was fan- 
tasy that provided escape from the everyday. 

Under these circumstances life was, of course, much more stable 
and uncomplicated. Indeed one of the beauties of Peking from a purely 
artistic point of view, lay in the fact that nearly all labor was still being 
performed with the muscles of men or beasts. There the human body 
still retained what it had lost in the West, the meaning of itself as the 
primary symbol of humanity. The world became an unending frieze 
of it, composed in all its attitudes and poses; no rival disputed its 
power. The ensuing simplicity of life had wonderful charm. 

There were, of course, many lighter touches. They occurred con- 
stantly in the little events of daily Kving. I shall give a single example. 
One day some friends installed at the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha 
invited there for tea a Manchu of high rank, who was also an artist 
of repute, together with his family. They were to come from their 
own summer dwelling, also in the hills, by motor car. All of us were 
aware of the "modern" aspect of transportation by such means for 
such people. 

We waited for quite a while that afternoon before a servant from 
the gate ran in to announce that our guests' "vapor chariot" had finally 
arrived. As we then hastened to meet them, a curious sight met my 
eyes. The family was indeed descending; but not at all as if from a 
modern automobile. Somehow it was even difficult to see that\ Wrapped 



Grandeur and Gentleness 155 

fittingly for the hazards of a journey in this self-moving vehicle, with 
even a certain excess of clothing I fancied if it were to run wild, 
the Prince and his wife, the elder and younger daughters, and also two 
small sons, obviously the idols of the family, as well as a female servant 
or two bearing still further clothing on their arms, all were climbing 
cautiously out of the car, not unlike voyagers descending from some 
interplanetary rocket. They had ridden before, even perhaps frequently, 
and of course they would ride again; yet each time it must have been 
as in a contrivance that did transport them long distances with great 
speed, but that remained itself completely alien. 

Except for the seats and windows of the vehicle, there seemed noth- 
ing about it that they actually recognized. Even the seats were to them 
foreign upholstered sofas upon which they could sit while being con- 
veniently moved by a foreign mechanism. It was the business of a 
chauffeur, sitting in front, to make the collection of metal parts in the 
concealed machinery produce this motion. Their sofa and chairs would 
then also move, hopefully without too much jostling. It would never 
occur to any of them, I felt sure, even to glance under the hood. 

We have above reached almost a caricature I hope not unkind 
which shows what can happen when the products of an alien system 
are introduced into the blood stream, so to speak, of a people wholly 
unprepared by temperament to take an understanding interest in them. 
The general Chinese ineffectiveness in handling such Western innova- 
tions only made it further obvious that in adjusting themselves to these 
new powers, they remained what they truly were gentle animals. 

One had only to observe them. They moved about the world in slip- 
pers; they gave way to others out of a set conviction that fighting, all 
fighting, brought loss; and they could yield the field to violence with- 
out the least suffering of pride. If only face were preserved, everyone 
agreed that all things could best be settled, aot by the victory of one of 
the two competing parties, but by yielding and compromise. Chinese 
proverbs, surrounding them from cradle to grave, perpetually exhorted 
them to avoid conflict rather than to attempt to conquer. The knights 
of medieval chivalry were surely the complete opposites o these men 
with an unashamed desire to avoid being hurt, who wished always to 
be able to flee from conflict,, almost at any cost. 



156 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

In Asia, however, this softness did not appear ridiculous. With the 
great numbers of the population, with life generally insecure, there 
was actually less possibility of heroic individuality. Small man there- 
fore sought, and found, other pleasures. 

Perhaps I can illustrate this. One cold day I took a friend, a quick 
and intelligent Englishwoman, to a half-deserted and only seldom 
visited temple north of the city walls. Part of the land within its en- 
closure had been plowed to make a kitchen garden, which was in 
charge of an aged caretaker. He was a smiling figure, as if out of a 
Chinese folk tale. 

We wandered about the temple buildings for some time, but it was 
a raw winter's day, and the wind was so blustery that when he offered 
us the shelter of his warmed little lodge for a few moments before the 
long and frozen ride by ricksha to within the city walls again, we con- 
sented with no demur. 

He was proud to be host; and to have us as guests within his tiny 
room. The little place with its low ceiling and its white-papered walls 
was exceptionally attractive, cozy as a ship's cabin. As we sat warming 
ourselves on the J(ang, I began to read his tui-tzu or antithetical cou- 
plets. He was almost incredulous that to me also the characters .made 
secure sense: 

Of what importance if the roof be low, 
when beneath it flower plum-blossoms? 

What matter if one's destiny be humble, 
when within it is fragrant friendship? 

Such a sentiment, here in this humble shelter, touched us; and for 
a few moments our two worlds fused. 

They split fairly soon again; for once he saw our obvious friendli- 
ness, and that I could read his own language without impediment, he 
began to be polite after his own fashion. 

"How great is the lofty age of your honorable companion?" he 
asked. 

I translated this into English for my friend, who mused for a mo- 
ment. 



Grandeur and Gentleness 157 

"Tell him that I won't answer!" 

So I translated back again, although not quite literally: "The Very- 
Very [a polite title for ladies] wishes me to state that in our humble 
country it is not the common wind [ordinary custom] for women thus 
to respond to age-counting. The Very-Very much hopes, nevertheless, 
that this will be clear white [understandable] to you. We much thank 
you for your warm-heartedness!" I could do no less. 

He was still courteous, but somewhat puzzled. Why had we re- 
sponded incompletely? As we left, soon after, I remember looking back 
into that little room with longing. Poverty here was fragrant; simple 
gentleness a consolation. Perhaps we too should be happier if we were 
free of separating independence and of compulsive audacity. Perhaps 
Occidental pride isolated men, while Oriental humility brought them 
together. 

The long centuries of Buddhism in China have also worked for 
peaceableness, teaching men of an ineffable calm, attainable through 
contemplation, which lay as an ultimate base under human conscious- 
ness. Further, since so much activity in China must of necessity be 
communal, with privacy so often a physical impossibility, there was in 
general far less self-consciousness in the public display of many feel- 
ings that in the West we attempt to hide. Sensitive pleasure did not 
have to be private. Cultivated toughness as a defense I found com- 
pletely absent; although in Japan, by contrast, it could become almost 
an obsession. So where we should feel shame if we did not fight, the 
Chinese were ready to make adjustments; and they were at no pains 
to conceal their feeling that putting up with each other, being gentle, 
was much more prudent, and therefore for them more natural. 

In this group society, however, there were quite special ways of 
showing personal sympathy. When all is well between yourself and 
another Chinese, a slow, soft, smile will usually inform you of the 
fact. I have seen total strangers on the road, whom I liked or who 
liked me; and perhaps after the exchange of a word or two we should 
come to feel that between us was the quality of yuan, or "affinity" as 
the dictionaries have it a very poor word for something that we 
are not used to experimenting with. "Sensitive feeling," I submit, 



158 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

would be a better translation. If we become aware of this, we quite 
often barbarously hide or suppress it; but not so the Chinese. 

I remember sitting at the wayside during a long walk one day, 
upon a rock, with a Buddhist priest who was quite silent until he 
suddenly made such a discovery, and broke into speech to announce 
to me simply and solemnly that between us there was yuan. The gates 
o his glance flew wide open, spontaneously. When this happens, in 
China, the light from within can be so beautiful, and life suddenly be- 
comes so rich of itself, that even bitter affliction or poverty seem un- 
important. 

If they had the slightest imaginativeness, all Westerners in some 
part or other of their sojourn in China have fallen a little under this 
spell. If they are uninstructed, unskilled, or mutes in the matter of 
communicability, their pleasures are those of signaling only; not much 
more is possible. When speech can help, however and with simple 
folk even a few words are often enough one is soon in magic lands 
far from the asperities of life. Tenderness and sensitiveness can then 
make whatever happens turn well. It may be because the Chinese 
live by preference so much in this happy state that they constantly 
neglect the upkeep of their physical surroundings. The lowest' not 
the highest standard of living, to give them leisure, seems literally 
what they choose. "Since the labor necessary for existence is per- 
petually irksome," they might phrase it, "once existence is assured, 
even if poorly, what then happily employs the mind becomes the only 
thing that really matters/' 

Once alight, this imagination can indeed become a powerful force. 
The Chinese consider themselves pre-eminently a literary people, 
moreover, simply because they know that they are able to use their 
writing and characters, skillfully unlocking latent forces of symbolism 
within them, to stimulate this sensitiveness. In the old order, the 
scholar gently read his way through life, ever refining upon such sen- 
sations. Almost every gate that one entered, every threshold that one 
crossed, bore some literary message on its name tablet or on the pairs 
of vertical boards placed on either side of the door frame, with 
symmetrically contrived inscriptions upon them. The mind and spirit 
were thus ever being played upon, subtly and powerfully; and it was 



Grandeur and Gentleness i< 

a point of pride for a Chinese in the old tradition to be able to seize 
promptly any impression or mood, even if surrounded with complex 
allusion, thus evoked. So intent was he, under such circumstances, in 
using his imagination, that the real surroundings could become almost 
a matter of indifference. 

I remember, in the early months of my sojourn in Peking, and be- 
fore I could read, how one evening I was taken to a Mongolian mutton 
restaurant, in the South City, where we were to have a small party, 
grilling platefuls of this meat, sliced thin, and served with wheaten 
cakes, over an open fire. We were soon standing about tables set in 
a large and slatternly courtyard. The place was remarkably untidy; 
glaring electric bulbs shed a harsh light over worn benches, up&n 
lengths of rusty stovepipe, upon piles of all manner of discarded ob- 
jects stacked pell-mell in the corners. I was new to China, and my 
eyes were still untrained to the trick of disregarding such large amounts 
of litter. 

Over one of the doors of the buildings making the court was a 
wooden f ien, or horizontal tablet, shaped like a curving scroll and 
painted an unlovely pink, upon which were carved four large Chinese 
characters, the usual number for this type of inscription. For some 
reason these took my eye; and since I could construe only a little, I 
asked a friend to read the whole for me. 

"That," he said offhandedly, "Oh, that!" "It says 'Abundance of 
flowers, drunk with moonlight!'" 

For a Chinese such a sentence was enough. With this to stimulate 
him, actuality became unimportant 

This sensitiveness to the written word seems to run through all 
Chinese culture. Characters are recognized and esteemed as personali- 
ties. Each represents indeed a whole group of related thoughts, in 
general with a meaning more ample than that of the single word we 
usually employ to translate it. They have, so to speak, both a larger 
area and more indefinite boundaries. To write die characters with 
their brush strokes in a given order is important; and when they are 
applied to objects or people, this conferring is taken seriously. 

Personal names follow a quite different system from ours in the 



THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 



West. In a family, the hsing or common surname is placed not last, 
as with us, but first. By Chinese logic one always progresses from the 
general to the individual; what else would be fitting? This hsing is 
most frequently of a single character. The given name follows; but all 
men among the educated classes use several, for different purposes, not 
one alone. They are formed with unfailing imaginativeness; and gen- 
erallyalthough by no means always with a pair of characters. 
Women, too, are given fanciful names. Thus we may name a little girl 
Mary Smith, while the Chinese would name her, if she were of the 
Wang family, let us say, a surname as common as Smith, Wang Yii- 
Shuang, or Wang Jade Frost. Jade Frost she then would be at all 
moments of her existence, a circumstance that naturally to a sensi- 
tive person influences imagination profoundly. Little boys are given 
names to develop their will, their courage or magnificence; for little 
girls names are chosen that bring to mind the grace or elegance of 
birds, the delicacy of flowers, the purity of gems. 

For a man, there is a whole series of these personal names that he 
may normally assume during the course of his life, progressing from 
one to another. When he is born he is given an impermanent name, 
a secret one, his "milk name," which is to be used only by his parents. 
This is a name bestowed in pure affection. Then when he first goes 
to school, or did in the old days, his Confucian teacher, upon the 
boy's presentation, is requested to confer upon him a "book name" 
that wiU spur him to learning and accomplishment. At the age of fifteen 
or sixteen, he adopts his mlng-tzii or "official name," which is used at 
law and also before the world. 

Naming, however, does not stop here. As facets of his character de- 
velop through life, he can always acquire new names for each. Any 
man of culture or of literary inclination, in the old system, might have 
several additional names; and these tzu and hao, or courtesy appella- 
tions usually given by friends, were used with satisfaction to everyone 
in all developed social relations. Today this causes much complicated 
searching in dictionaries of biography, since often one man is named 
historically, it seems to us, as if he were several. Yet the refreshment 
and spiritual significance of these further literary names was not to 
be forgone because of any minor detail such as this! 



Grandeur and Gentleness 161 

A man, moreover, could also make use of the name o Hs library, 
or of his chai, which is his studio, or of any room in which he cultivated 
his personality. Taking a tide for himself, he thus became the "Master 
of tie Book Room of the Pine Torrent," or of the "Study of the Tran- 
quil Clouds." Or, if he were a poor devil living in a shabby little den 
as did a friend of my teacher his friends might affectionately ad- 
dress him as the "Master of the Blue Hole-in-the-Wall." Here were 
imagination and humor, forever at work. No one was too poor for 
this. 

My own progress was typical. The American Legation gave me my 
first name. For identification, it was made to fit the sound of my 
surname in English, three characters one for a hsing and two for a 
ming-tzii being combined to reproduce this in so far as Chinese 
sounds could manage. 

My hao or additional literary name was not ^ acquired until the 
familiar Dr. Ferguson, dean of our small colony of American Sinol- 
ogists, and a mature man extremely wise in his knowledge of how 
the Chinese felt in such matters, suddenly observed to me after the 
passage of some time that I lacked one. He thereupon consulted with 
the scholar who was his secretary; and<it was duly decided and I was 
so informed, that henceforth I should also be called, besides "Thoughts 
of Power," my original ming-tzu, the "Philosopher-Student Who 
Cherishes." This hao had been chosen for me because of my obvious 
love for China; and in due course a second and smaller pair of char- 
acters was added to my name on my calling cards. With the new 
name, of course, I also began to develop a further personality, perma- 
nently amplifying the first, as time had brought it into existence. 

It was quite a while later that I acquired a third name, my appella- 
tion of courtesy. One day I happened to mention to my teacher my 
admiration for a poem by Verlaine, reproducing with great skill the 
effect of scudding dry autumn leaves, driven by a wind along the 
ground. The lines seemed to me somewhat allegorical of my fate in 
China, in a progressively more difficult, colder, age. A Chinese ana- 
logue had brought this to mind; and we discussed the symbolism 
of the whole idea. Suddenly Mr. Wang decided that it was now fit 
for me to assume a further tide, to be used whenever I wished, the 



l62 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

"Master of the Study of Autumn Leaves." The workroom in my 
rear court could thus also have a name conferred upon it. Gifts soon 
began to come to me bearing this new designation. A pen tray was 
inscribed with it; it was written on a fan. 

Incidentally Chinese imagination never shows itself in brighter 
dress than in the poems inscribed on fans. One that I was given, for 
the warmest weather, had written upon it by Mr. Wang in stubby 
characters a "cold" poem. Its short lines described a boat, moored in 
snow and mist beneath the dark walls of an ancient city, on a freez- 
ing winter's midnight The rooks were cawing; in the distance could 
be heard the cracked bell of an old temple. Would not these images, 
in old verses, cool me pleasantly in feverish weather? 

There were many complexities of formal naming beyond those in 
my own simple collection. Priests, who usually had two characters 
only for their names in religion, drew upon the whole range of Bud- 
dhism. For princes, for members of the imperial family, and finally for 
the Emperor himself, grandeurs were arrived at too complicated to be 
described here in detail. Various periods in the reign of an Emperor- 
whose personal name, for the very reason that it could not be used, 
had to be learned privately were given auspicious appellations, 
changeable at will. He could then be referred to openly, if obliquely, by 
these. If the coming of any New Year were to be marked publicly 
with a change of heart, the name of the reign date could thus always 
be changed to correspond. 

There was also, in personal names, a chain that went through the 
generations, linking all members of a family together. Perhaps a 
moral sentence or short motto was chosen, as it was by one Emperor 
of the Manchu dynasty. Then each generation of his descendants had 
the first character of their ming-tzii, or personal names, made up of 
successive characters from this. The second character could be chosen 
for the child individually, to fit his own destiny. Or one "radical" 
that is only part of a character, such as wood, or jade, or fire or water 
would be chosen as a component of the first character for each mem- 
ber of the same generation. Variations were numberless; yet it was 
not uncommon to have someone identify a distant relative and place 
him at once in his proper sequence by some such effective system, 



Grandeur and Gentleness 163 

adopted by that family for its own use. "He was my grandfather's 
first cousin," someone might say; "every member of that generation 
has the sign of the boat in the first character of his name." 

The names of the chai, too, of many famous men, poets, calligraphers 
or artists, were well known to educated Chinese. It is not easy to 
translate this small word chai. The term "studio" often used is far 
too bohemian. Painting may indeed be done in a chat t but it is properly 
a room set apart for privacy and study, for intellectual accomplish- 
ment. It is that room where, surrounded by the objects of his choice, 
his books and scrolls with a sympathetic view if possible a man may 
develop his personality to maturity in tranquil and cultivated leisure* 
So the names of such rooms were never bestowed lightly; nor to the 
Chinese did they seem fanciful. The power of names was obvious and 
important; this was a matter of simple and complete belief. 

This same simple belief touched matters affecting human dignity. 
Everyone had a name; through it everyone had a right to his established 
personality. I sometimes think of China as above all others the land 
where every single man is by right an individualist, concerned with 
enjoying human pleasure as he himself desires, and not according to 
the dictates of others. Indeed, in this sense China has been perhaps the 
truest democracy on the globe; and I doubt whether any revolution, 
military, political, or economic, can ever much change this. 

Strangely enough, though, it is also a country where, contrary to a 
general Western misconception, there is almost no feeling whatever 
for aristocracy by birth although the superiority conferred by educa- 
tion is universally respected. Man is man; and although the advantages 
of wealth and power are obvious enough, it never occurs to him to be 
ashamed of any condition in which destiny has placed him. So in 
China one never finds, for instance, the embarrassed class consciousness 
that so often makes for mutual awkwardness in the West. Social false 
shame is simply unheard of, unknown; and it is a great relief to be 
done with it. 

Those who know the country only superficially can quite misread 
the character of the ordinary coolie, ascribing to him prodigies of sus- 
tained effort^ or even a romantic depth of resignation. On the contrary 



164 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

his labor is simple, practical and cheerful; much more intermittent, 
it may be observed, when he is working for Chinese than when he is 
bound to foreigners. That it may be his fate to earn his living with 
fitter toil" which is what tyi li, "coolie," literally means rather 
than not to have to work at all (the obvious ideal), never for an 
instant makes him feel inferior in personal dignity, 

It used to be amusing to listen to conversations between the puller 
and the pulled, when a Pekingese ricksha boy had a local Chinese 
fare. There was not the least self -consciousness on either side, never the 
handicapping distinction of class. The world was the world; and to 
exchange comment about it passed time reasonably for both parties. 

The puller, for instance: "So you bought the cabbages cheaper in 
the country?" 

The pulled: "Well, who would not go to buy them there, when 
they are as fresh as the ones you are pulling?*' 

It was the Westerner who through ignorance might falsify the re- 
lation; and in Chinese eyes become extremely uncivilized. Even then 
the Chinese still kept his personal dignity; that could never be rooted 
out! It is this great innocence of the very thought of congenital in- 
feriority that gives certain Asiatic faces, I believe, their purity in re- 
pose; so that the head of an unlettered peasant may occasionally re- 
semble a bronze image of one of the immortal gods. 

Yet special techniques were necessary to maintain personality intact 
in so numerous and often so clamorous a society. There could be so 
little privacy, especially in the poorer dwelling quarters. Here one 
might exist in company from the beginning of one's life until its end. 
Indeed even in the families of the well-to-do, group life was so normal 
that to withdraw, to lock a door, to seek to be much alone, would have 
been regarded as a social offense. One has only to read Chinese novels 
with chapters of lament, delivered by unhappy daughters-in-law im- 
prisoned for life in complex and unsympathetic families, to find how 
irksome circumstances could become. 

How, then, did these individualists behave? They were, above all, 
it always seemed to me, a "rubbed" people; so many corners had long 
ago been worn away, so many surfaces had been smoothed, polished 
even, by immemorial convention, to make for ease and deliberately to 



Grandeur and Gentleness 165 

avoid the heat of friction. It had been necessary to do this. How else, 
for example, in a large family could the wives of various sons ever 
get on with each other at all? It was the general duty of everyone to 
see to it that there were no rasping edges to speech or manners. 
Outspokenness, at any rate among the young, in the old order would 
have been suicidal folly. 

People had to be very careful; especially if they were forced to lead 
whole lifetimes with others whom they disliked. They had to numb 
their revulsion, or at least take good care not to show it. Yet one tften 
saw the technique so developed that it had become second nature. In 
the midst of crowds, with a group of companions, or in family court- 
yards, one might catch glimpses of faces showing clearly that their 
owners, physically present, were yet safely, in their own thoughts, 
leagues away still individualists. These were the only secret places 
possible in a group society; and long training had taught the Chinese 
to enjoy them. 

There is more to the matter, however, than this. I believe that the 
underlying philosophy of Chinese life bears with it a conviction that 
simple cheerfulness is by all odds and under all circumstances the 
most sensible and the wisest attitude for anything that may befall. The 
smile of good humor, though, must really come from within. Why be 
haughty, or arrogant, or tense or morose, when everything in the 
world runs so much better if one will only take it easily and in good 
part, and then enjoy the amusement and cheer? This lesson has been 
well learned. Laughter springs up of itself; at times the gaiety is in- 
fectious. Nowhere better than in China can a man outwit his destiny 
by the simple expedient of finding something simple with which to 
divert himself, within it. 

In such a good-humored conspiracy to cheat life of at least some 
of its asperities, to turn it into something more congenial, less thank- 
less and unprofitable than it would be of itself, there are many devices. 
A great number can be grouped together under the Chinese name of 
fa-tzu, a pair of characters difficult to translate, but meaning literally 
a little plan, or small method. Two Chinese take counsel in a given 



l66 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

situation: "What is to be done?" The answer is invariably the same: 
"We must think of a good fa~tzu\" 

Perhaps a few homely examples will illustrate how such arrange- 
ments work. In my time there was a young girl, quite poor, employed 
in the American hospital in Peking, who suddenly developed symp- 
toms of tuberculosis. She therefore found herself in a critical situation, 
overnight, and unexpectedly falling into peril of destitution or so it 
might have been in the West. Further, her parents depended upon 
her;* some ja-tzii had to be invented without delay. 

Now it so happened that someone who knew her was acquainted 
also with a wealthy Chinese banker, recently widowed, who urgently 
needed a well-trained person to act as a substitute mother for his young 
children, but who also did not wish to acquire another wife in thus 
providing for them. 

The fa-tzii was promptly devised: "No perfect solution is now pos- 
sible. She can, however, become a secondary wife or concubine." So 
off she went to a sanatorium, as soon as arrangements had been made; 
the banker was willing to take a risk. Her parents were also sup- 
ported by the new agreement. Since her tuberculosis was only in- 
cipient, once anxiety had been removed and she was given proper care, 
she did soon become better again. The problem of her future husband, 
who wanted not so much full marriage as care and training for his 
children, and her own, were thus both solved together. This most 
un-Western arrangement is a typical fa-tzii. 

I knew of another similar case. Three extremely dashing and at- 
tractive young married women in Tientsin had a widowed father 
who pined alone after they had all left home to make fashionable 
marriages. He felt indeed solitary. What could be done? They had an 
inspiration: "Why not all club together and buy papa, for his birth- 
day, a really excellent concubinel" She must be both nurse and charm- 
ing companion, to care for, cajole, and distract him. This was arranged, 
doubdess by the choice of someone of proper qualification, for whom 
it became in its turn also a good ja-tzu* The West would find it diffi- 
cult, I believe, to cope so easily with similar situations. 

These two cases may perhaps be thought a little garish; but they il- 
lustrate their principle. Fa~tzu, however, are also applied to find solu- 



Grandeur and Gentleness 167 

tions for minor matters. I remember so well, when we found ourselves 
at a temporary loss in some small household difficulty changing to 
a new sewing woman; or even having an old suit altered at the 
tailor's how my servants would come to announce that a fa-tzu was 
going to be necessary, and then go back to the kitchen to "think-arise- 
arrive" it. This might take a while; but a smiling face usually ap- 
peared at my door in due course, a solution was propounded, and 
some ingenious dovetailing of matters, impossible to reconcile com- 
pletely, but better thus resolved than if allowed to run their course, 
would finally bring content to all concerned. 

Perhaps the childlike pleasure that all Chinese seem to take in 
familiar plays at the theater is really in part their appreciation of 
just such a sharpening of the wits, pointed up by clever acting. They can 
vicariously participate in marvelous solutions to complicated prob- 
lems; during a few hours of bliss they may even feel what it is to 
achieve triumph in matters of state. The ja-tzu of the hero are invari- 
ably magnificent; and he never fails to execute them superbly. 

In their judgment of human destiny, there was one aspect on which 
I found Chinese and Westerners stood at opposite poles. That is what 
each of them thinks about old age. I had come to China with tie 
value of youth its preciousness and glory duly impressed upon me, 
as it is upon every young man during his university years. This atti- 
tude had been re-enforced by humble admiration given to it in the 
West from those who had passed beyond that light-filled region. West- 
erners often seemed to feel almost guilty about their gradual decline 
of vigor, and the passing of perfect physical cleanliness. Indeed when 
youth is past, the road of life in our world lies ever downward. Al- 
though certain rewards of the maturer years may philosophically be 
conceded "Grow old along with me," one repeatsthey are not 
actually much believed in. When old age comes, it is very nearly 
apologized for, its inadequacies made the subject for shambling 
excuse. 

To my surprise I found that in China the grand lines of life ran 
literally in the opposite direction. The Chinese had created a veritable 
cult of longevity, as a high and proud goal at the end of the human 



l68 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

journey. This, they serenely pointed out, was indeed the core o their 
civilization. For of what use was human wit, if one were to end life 
on the level of the beasts? They, therefore, had long ago fashioned 
another system, a chivalry of age, which commanded the enthusiasm 
of millions. To them it was a grand thing to explore reaches of time 
beyond the mediocre stretch of the middle years; to be able to say to 
those still young and therefore immature: "I have crossed more 
bridges than you have crossed streets!" The ascent ennobled; the very 
arduousness of the journey stimulated the voyager. 

So no excess sympathy was given to youth, which was to know 
that it was not really at the height of life because it was callow, and 
was to. behave itself properly in consequence. The grandeur of old age, 
on the contrary, was majestic, at last completely sure of itself. He 
who cultivated it successfully was rewarded by universal regard. I 
have seen old men so superb, so dignified as they climbed the last, 
the hardest, and the most wonderful slopes of their lives, that the 
very sight of them sent a shiver down my spine. These white-bearded 
giants of the years were indeed on the ultimate peaks, from which 
the view, although somber, was broadest. If the temperature in that 
elevated region was always cold, and sometimes even freezing, such 
was the human price of tie journey. This was in China a conviction, 
a respect, commonly shared by high and low, by old and young alike. 
Those who were not yet old might even yearn, almost romantically, 
for the stature that could only come with the years. 

One day, meditating upon such matters during a long country walk, 
I was overtaken by a rainstorm and sought refuge in a tiny hut, at 
the edge of some rice paddies in the region of the country temple 
where at the time I was living. In this small shelter several peasants 
could sleep in bunks along the wall, and thus take turns guarding their 
ripening crops at night. I had often seen the little place before; and 
now I was made welcome by the one young farmer there at the time. 

The rain continued longer than I had expected. After greeting me 
he continued to lie comfortably on one bunk; and I accepted the 
hospitality of another. So we fell into a good conversation, both of 
us superbly at ease. 



Grandeur and Gentleness 169 

"Why is it," I asked, "that in China you seem actually to enjoy grow- 
ing old? In the Western countries we dislike it so intensely." 

I had, of course, no explanation to make to him, who earned his 
living with the well-known "bitter toil," of the obvious drawbacks to 
old age. He knew these far better than L When almost a man's sole 
capital is in his frame and his muscles, he is aware of how calamity 
may fall unannounced; and of how in the end the best that he can 
ever hope for is slow decline in earning power, to final defeat 

Yet with all this clear, though unspoken, between us, he did have 
to consider for a while, meditatively, before finding an answer to a 
question as obvious as mine. 

Finally he had it: "One might as well try another year!" That is, he 
implied, anyone with the least enterprise, anyone who loved life at 
all, yearly took on living almost as a dare, merely to see what it would 
bring with it Why not find out how to test in further use what one 
had acquired? 

"Of course it is a good thing!" he concluded. 

Yet to "try another" is not something attempted alone in China, 
but ever in a great company. My farmer could thus always learn 
what happened to him personally while in a larger pattern. Life might 
be good, or might become very bitter. Yet one was not solitary, what 
one had learned was precious; and in another round of the same game, 
in another cycle of the eternal seasons, it could be put to use, with an- 
ticipation, and also since there never is a last word to life with 
hope. 

Consequently, as the years passed, there was not for the individual, 
in this system, any creeping alone into the shadows, or pride reduced 
against the will to ashes. The respect of a man's friends, indeed of 
the world at large, could be assumed. Even women whose beauty 
had once been the passport to their fortunes, did not feel that to ex- 
change it for such dignity and authority as came with esteemed years 
was too outrageous a bargain. To be called to, or old, is in China a 
compliment appreciated by both sexes. 

At anniversary birthday parties, such as the very important sixtieth, 
celebrating the completion of a full cycle, I often saw as a gift to be 



1^0 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

suspended on that festive day, a pair of antithetical couplets, commonly 
enough presented as scrolls. 

May your Longevity be as the never-aging pines 
on the Southern Mountains. 

May your Happiness be as the ever-flowing waters 
of the Eastern Seas. 

This was the expanded and sunlit landscape of the later years, which 
we in the West grimly could take no pleasure in. The Chinese, by 
contrast, had smilingly conferred upon themselves no less than a 
minor variety of immortality. Here was indeed grandeur; yet it was 
specifically reserved for the old and the wise, who now had also be- 
come the very gentle. They, in Chinese minds, had gone the journey; 
and having seen what life could offer, were pleased, cheerful even, 
with the sights that fate had vouchsafed them. 

"Five Generations in One Hall," the maximum stretch that humanity 
can know: it was so fine an ideal that silversmiths frequently engraved 
it upon simulated padlocks, made of thin beaten metal, presented as 
a first gift to little babies. These charms were symbolically to fasten 
them down to the earth, where it was hoped that finally at the end of 
their journey, now only beginning, this ultimate reward and dignity 
might also be theirs. 



CHAPTER x The Imperial Lakes 



I CANNOT too highly commend leisurely residence in an ancient 
capital. Gently decaying palaces offer charming possibilities for re- 
arrangement and simpler dwelling; manners are markedly more sen- 
sitive and refined; and the simplest acts o daily living are performed 
more agreeably in such surroundings. Time is used elegantly, in 
courtly fashion, with a quite special knowledge that its luxury abides 
when others have departed. 

This was true of Peking; and by good fortune I had been able to 
make mine, if not a palace, at least a small house that in unspoiled 
simplicity and advantage of situation had in my eyes few rivals in 
the whole city. It was indeed unpretentious, although the effect of 
its ancient tree in the outermost of my three courtyards used often 
to remind me of scenery for the opera, where a single silhouette^ a 
trunk of great girth and almost horizontal branchings, is made to 
spread from the wings across the whole stage. Indoor space I had in 
abundance. 

Further, only a few minutes by bicycle, or a very modest walk on 
foot, and I could be at one of the entrances to what remain the most 
completely preserved traditional pleasure grounds in all China: the 
three imperial lakes to the west of the Forbidden City. 

Once, perhaps a millennium ago, there may have been marsh land 
on this site. Or it may merely have been lowJying ground to which 

171 



1^2 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

water from the Jade Fountain, behind the present "new" Summer 
Palace, was early diverted. Whatever their misty origin in the distant 
past, we know that long ago these lakes were so extended and enlarged 
that by far the greater part of their area is now undoubtedly the work, 
not of nature, but of man. 

This fact always had about it for me something of the incredible. 
Until one had examined levels and shore lines very carefully, they 
seemed nature itself. Strung out so that one could always progress the 
longest possible distance by barge since this was undoubtedly the 
chief pleasure they provided for the court they extended along the 
whole west side of the Forbidden City, from a line even with its outer- 
most southern gates to farther north than the stately buildings to the 
rear of Coal Hill. There was a prolongation of them beyond the palace 
grounds, the so-called Hou Hai or Rear Lakes, almost to the northwest 
corner of the city wall. 

Had nature created them as they are, these lovely mirrors of water- 
surrounded by old trees and set about with many buildings for differ- 
ent pleasures, for worship and repose would have been the perfect 
accompaniment and contrast, in their irregular grace, to the majesty 
of the rectangular plan of the palace. Man, however, here conceived 
of a nonexistent amenity, and then provided it by his own effort. We 
wonder at this today; but Marco Polo, describing his sojourn in Peking 
in the last quarter of the thirteenth century, when mentioning the 
Pei Hai or "North Sea" and the palace-crowned artificial island rising 
out of its waters, felt and recorded the same wonder at substantially 
the same sights. 

... On the north side of the Palace [he wrote] . . . there is a hill which 
has been made by art [from the earth dug out of the lake]; it is a good 
hundred paces in height and a mile in compass. This hill is entirely covered 
with trees that never lose their leaves, but remain ever green. And I assure 
you that wherever a beautiful tree may exist, and the Emperor gets news 
of it, he sends for it and has it transported bodily with all its roots and the 
earth attached to them, and planted on that hill of his. No matter how big 
the tree may be, he gets it carried by his elephants; and in this way he has 
got together the most beautiful collection of trees in all the world. And 
he has also caused the whole hill to be covered with ore of azure, which is 



The Imperial La\es 173 

very green. And thus not only are the trees all green, but the hill itself is 
all green likewise; and there is nothing to be seen on it that is not green; 
and hence it is called the Green Mount; and in good sooth 'tis named well. 
On the top of the hill again there is a fine big palace which is all green 
inside and out; and thus the hill, and the trees, and the palace form 
together a charming spectacle; and it is marvellous to see their uniformity 
of colour! Everybody who sees them is delighted. And the Great Kaan has 
caused this beautiful prospect to be formed for the comfort and solace 
and delectation of his heart 



The North Lake was thus the setting for the pleasures o a mag- 
nificent although barbaric court, that of the Mongol Emperor Kublai 
Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty. We are told of certain of 
these festivities in some detail; they seem both to have fascinated and 
horrified the decorous Chinese men of letters who describe them in 
moral poems. Here pomp and splendor were unbridled at a time 
when on the same globe the gothic Middle Ages in small and re- 
mote Europe were still near their beginning, distant in thought and 
removed in intent as if they existed on another planet 

As the seasons rolled by, these lakes became by singular good fortune 
virtually my own to roam in, by day or night, for pleasure and repose 
but also for work. I had early learned that if the Chinese language 
would not yield to intense assault of an impatient Western variety, I 
could successfully attack it quietly, even peripatetically. It was not 
necessary to exhaust the mind; only more gentle efforts must be un- 
remitting. What, then, could be better than to take along my current 
packet of character cards and with them to wander beside tranquil 
waters, beside abandoned pavilions, under overhanging trees? 

This habit began early 'and naturally; but it was the lakes themselves 
that lured me to develop it. There were times when I veritably lived 
within the spacious enclosure, not even returning to my nearby house 
for meals; for within the grounds there were well-run restaurants and 
tea houses here and there, each offering some combination of good 
cooking together with its own landscape. 

At the beginning I had the surprises of the first cold winter, when 
in fur cap and gloves I skated by the hour over their surface then 



174 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

covered with good thick ice. There followed boating in summer, in 
weather so lush that I still think of it primarily in terms of deep green 
lotus leaves with large rose flowers on graceful stalks rising between 
them. Year after year, as I grew to know the site better, my pleasures 
became something to be anticipated in advance, a gift of imperial 
lavishness. 

In winter, for example, there were glassed-in, heated pavilions by the 
lakeside, excellent places for hot tea and steaming stuffed dumplings 
after skating, and genial talk with Chinese friends. When the heat of 
summer was at its sultriest, the days not unlike those at home, I learned 
where the shady places were, and which were the coolest. There the 
long hours glided by as insects filled the air with alternating orchestras, 
to celebrate their profound content. At sunset I might cross by ferry to 
one of the larger eating places at the water's edge, busy at that hour 
with much clatter and voluble conversation, its lighted Western carbon 
lamps suspended under high stretches of slanting matshed. I would 
then give myself the luxury of a good Chinese supper, breaking with 
gusto a mood of withdrawal that perhaps had lasted for the whole day. 
With succulent food such as diced morsels of hot spiced chicken pre- 
pared with green peppers, its sauce enriching heaping bowls of good 
rice with a flavor that one cannot find in the West, I confidently 
planned further. 

Finally the site became almost my own garden, at least in the sense 
that I now knew beforehand where the feeble sun would be warmest 
through the thin willows in spring, or in the dog days which were the 
ravines where the sultry moonrise of midsummer was most mysterious; 
to what hillock to go for an open view with a breeze off the water; or 
where to shield myself on a cold day, as the year waned, if I still 
wanted to work in the open. For I lived much out-of-doors, these years, 
here. 

One close summer's night, after some time had gone by, out of the 
blanketing darkness the guard at one of the rear gates unexpectedly 
called out to me not to buy an entrance ticket! They cost only a few 
coppers. "You are now," he addressed me comfortably, "a familiar 
man." This casual sentence merely five Chinese syllables made me 



The Imperial La\e$ 175 

flush with pleasure: it informed me that my love of the place had be- 
come a passport to it. 

It was the high rocky island in the northernmost lake that I liked 
best. For the first year or so I saw it chiefly using only my own eyes to 
enjoy its effects, or with a little dubious knowledge derived from super- 
ficial guide books, either in English, or later almost worse in Chi- 
nese. Gradually I became aware that these slight accounts were very 
inaccurate; and I would have fact So my teacher was one day a little 
startled to have me suggest that we plunge into rather extensive literary 
investigation. Our reward was great; and finally he caught my en- 
thusiasm. In all his years of routine, this kind of readingfor pleasure 
but also about pleasure, long since vanished was new to him. We 
made our plan, though, soberly enough. He would copy out in his 
neat hand passages that we selected in the local histories; and then 
with his help I put my own translations between his even rows of 
Chinese characters, which we therefore ran horizontally instead of ver- 
tically in notebooks we arranged for this purpose. 

Gradually there loomed before us, like some high vision glistening 
in the mists, a twelfth-century island that became my delight. It was 
new to both of us. So many details, completely forgotten, were now 
by our curiosity being brought back to memory again. 

Parts of the story, of course, were familiar. 1 Long ago the great 
conqueror, Genghis Khan, who had never himself come to Peking, 
here installed a holy Taoist priest whom he had first summoned all 
the way across Asia to the slopes of the Hindu Kush, a journey con- 
suming some three years, because he desired the pleasure of a few 
conversations with him. An attachment so real had thus begun, how- 
ever, that upon the sage's return to China the island in the Pei Hai 
was conveyed as a gift from the "Lord of All under the Sk/* to the 
holy man, to do with as he would. Here he subsequently came to live, 
rambling about its slopes, composing gentle poems, which my teacher 

1 The interested reader is referred, for the tale that follows, to a book of great 
charm: Arthur Wlaley's The Travels of art Alchemist, etc., in the Broadway Travellers 
Series, published by George Kentledge and Sons in London (although undated) in 1931. 



176 THE YEARS THAT WERE PAT 

and I now read together; here, having transcended the vicissitudes 
of life, sorrowfully yet calmly, we are told, at the end he died. 

We then became absorbed with Genghis's magnificent grandson 
who reigned in the latter part of our thirteenth century, Kublai, one 
of those dazzling figures who from time to time come into history 
and monopolize the stage when they appear splendidly upon it. Every- 
where he went Kublai had planned for himself regal pleasure on a 
scale that makes the reader rub his eyes. 

Yet he was specially fond of this island. Crowning it was a splendid 
palace as we have seen named after one in the moon. From it he 
could survey his rich new capital. Here played his mechanical fountains, 
their water raised from the lake by contrivances probably borrowed 
from the Near East, since the whole was in charge of a Mohammedan 
as chief architect. Here he had his halls for steam bathing a luxury 
probably also imitated from the Mohammedans with warm and 
perfumed waters spouting from a coiled dragon's jaws, and marble 
channels for it to flow in from apartment to apartment, Mongol 
Peking, in these bathing halls, is thus even related to the Alhambra, 
where strikingly similar baths still remain. We know that in his hours 
of repose Kublai liked to be diverted in this place by recitals of long 
journeys. Here would be summoned the hardy voyager who had 
returned after seeing distant marvels, to describe them and to be 
questioned at leisure by his sovereign. 

At the Mongol court, in this respect completely un-Chinese, women 
were customarily present at feastings and merrymaking. One con- 
temporary poem that my teacher and I unearthed described, for 
instance, how as day ended the concubines could often be seen slowly 
riding their white horses from the palace to this place. (My teacher's 
shock of surprise at the word "riding" was illuminating.) There was 
even arranged for them here we read furthera "Rouging and 
Powder Pavilion." 

Mongol pleasures constantly reflected the violent temper of the race. 
Yet these conquering nomads were not unaware that their strength 
had come from their old habit of life on the grassy uplands of their 
native Mongolia. One emperor even commanded that this grass be 



The Imperial La\es 177 

planted in open spaces within the Forbidden City itself, constantly 
to remind his descendants o their origins. 

In these gardens they were at ease, yet still boisterous only tem- 
porarily sated. To divert guests, one Chinese author informs us, there 
were kept here a variety of wild beasts in cages. The cages were on 
wheels, and could be rolled one next to another. They then enjoyed 
watching how certain animals dominated others, even though bars 
intervened. Strange beasts, brought from great distances, interested 
them specially. * 

Revelry must often have been both violent and drunken. Marco 
Polo gives extraordinary details about the feastings in the palace itself. 
"The Hall of the Palace is so largfr " he tells us "that it could easily 
dine 6000 people." Here banqueted the Horde, cross-legged upon 
cushions and mats. Sets of platforms were arranged, their heights 
varying with rank; and women had their own side of the room. The 
Emperor's throne, placed on a dais against the rear wall, was so high 
that he could overlook the full assembly. 

In the lakes, and especially at the "Green Mount," the enjoyments 
seem to have been more private, the guests fewer and especially 
privileged. The degenerate last Emperor who came to the throne in 
1333 (it was a very short-lived dynasty), introduced here an esoteric 
variety of dancing, making Lamaist Buddhism a flimsy pretext for 
other quite unholy varieties of pleasure. Selected young dancing girls, 
costumed in luxurious brocades with a profusion of jewels, were 
dressed to represent minor religious deities; and as such they gave 
elaborate performances of which we still have descriptions. They went 
by the extraordinary name of the "Fourteen Heavenly Devils"; and 
as they danced they made their owa music, marking the rhythm with 
conch-shell rattles. 

There were also evening boating parties upon the lake^ with female 
musicians seated high upon silk-bedecked towers built out over the 
water, and barges with extravagant trappings. There was even devised 
a kind of water ballet, the chief female dancers singing laudatory 
verses upon a floating platform. This was repellent to the Chinese of 
course; they were both conquered and critical. Yet while their power 
lasted, here as in Europe, the Mongols were implacable. Their pleasures 



1^8 THE YEAJRS THAT WERE FAT 

might conform irregularly to certain aspects of Chinese traditions, 
yet at bottom they reflected undisciplined will and native desires. 

As usual, a time of troubles came with the overthrow of this unstable 
dynasty; and the last weak Emperor died ignominiously in the desert, 
of dysentery, a coward forced to flee from the soft delights of his 
capital. We have, placed in his mouth, a poetic lament for bygone 
pleasures he had enjoyed in these lakes that is indirectly a poem of 
sweetest praise for Peking. 

When the Ming line began in 1368, one of the new Emperor's first 
acts was to order the demolition of everything possible in the capital 
of his now fugitive enemies, including the Forbidden City itself. 
There even exists a unique description of the Mongol palace drawn 
by the surveyors the year before this great destruction was carried out, 
Nanking was to become the capital, and Central China the heart of 
a new empire. 

Yet the lure of Peking was too great! Only a generation later we 
find the Emperor Yung L (1403-1424) deserting the lesser city; and 
there begins again a rebuilding. With it came renewed prosperity for 
the "Northern Capital" the literal meaning of Peking's old Chinese 
name. Even the ruin of the great palace had not reduced its attraction. 
So all was done again, with interesting variants (which by this time 
my teacher and I were tracing with the satisfaction of initiates). 

The Ming emperors had little taste for travel. Like most Chinese, 
who do not enjoy displacement, once installed in the broad area of 
Peking, they took their ease without much moving, even during the 
summer months, when their Mongol predecessors had gone away 
upon great hunting parties in the uplands of Xanadu. But the Ming 
sovereigns, by contrast, remained almost motionless within the walls of 
Peking, enjoying the pleasures of boating upon these lakes. From 
Yung Le's return, during the rest of their tenure they built ex- 
tensively here, although nearly all of these works have also disappeared. 
Yet we could reconstruct a little from brief mentions that we stumbled 
on in forgotten books. 

Here, we read, were celebrated such high days as the Fifteenth of 
the Seventh Moon, a late summer festival, when at dusk the banks 



The Imperial La\e$ 179 

crowded with onlookers lotus lanterns were set afloat by hundreds 
upon the moonlit waters. For it is always full moon on the fifteenth 
day of any month in the Chinese lunar calendar an elementary piece 
of knowledge in Chinese eyes. At this time, and by this light, the 
souls of the dead who have perished by drowning are invited back to 
the human world again. With much music and chanting by priests, 
food is also dropped to their watery graves, where a civilized people, 
one is told, has never forgotten them. 

Not overmuch of its origins subsists in this holiday as it finally has 
developed. Even a few years ago in Peking it was made rather into a 
great occasion for boating parties, especially on one canal to the east 
of the city. In these Westerners often joined, hiring barges for the 
evening almost as if for boat races on the Isis or the Thames. Crowds 
began to assemble by late afternoon; later the frail lanterns were 
set out to float on the water, as they had been for centuries, guttering 
as dusk turned to night. Finally a great model of a spirit boat, made 
with paper on a frame of reeds, was set ablaze, as vestmented priests 
beat gongs and intoned surras. 

Then in 1644 came the Manchu or Ch'ing dynasty, the last of all, 
ruling until 1912. The record now became so abundant that com- 
pilation was difficult. Two remarkable emperors, grandfather and 
grandson, both extremely able men though of very different characters, 
each held the throne for sixty years. The periods of their respective 
reigns are titled K'ang Hsi (1662-1722) and Ch'ien Lung (1736-1795), 
which in English have now become virtual equivalents for their 
personal names. The K'ang Hsi and Ch'ien Lung emperors were the 
great monarchs of modern Chinese history. Each fills this lake, still, 
with story and legend. 

K'ang Hsi, for instance, who enjoyed simplicity, commanded that 
the common people be admitted to this most forbidden enclosure at 
the time of the Chinese New Year, to see the fireworks customarily 
set off during that holiday. They were allowed to group themselves 
along the ice on one shore, while opposite sat the Emperor, clothed 
in sables, surrounded by his full court. 

Ch'ieu Lung's traces were literally everywhere. At times in the 



l8o THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

lakes one progressed only a few yards from inscription to inscription. 
Here was a writing Emperor, a consciously literary one; and his 
formal descriptions of the new halls he ordered to be built in the 
lakes, including detailed reasons for their building, and poems cele- 
brating their virtues, were methodically carved into stone or white 
marble. 

Every small pavilion, of course, also had its gilt-framed name tablet 
above the entrance. The Chinese do not have unnamed structures in 
such a place; to finish a building one must tide it properly and 
imaginatively. One that always amused me was called the Hall of the 
"Prompt Snow." The story about it was simple enough. Not long 
after it had been completed, Ch'ien Lung one day arrived, wishing 
to make a winter poem. To aid in his composition he wished that 
there might be snow about him and as he made this wish, wonder- 
fully enough, snowflakes did begin to fall. So he conferred this name 
upon the place. 

As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, these glories 
faded; the nineteenth century became a time of prolonged and 
finally for the old China, tragic difficulties. Taste, declining perhaps 
even because of its past virtuosity and elaboration, became deplorably, 
irremediably poor. A period of dullness ensued. Yet during the reigns 
of the succeeding emperors, and all phases of the regency and other 
compromises arranged to prolong the reign of the last Empress 
Dowager, the lakes continued to play their customary role. 

The Empress, indeed, was markedly fond of them. One could see 
where she had arranged her theatricals about a rectangular courtyard 
in a group of buildings poetically named "Spring Rain in the Forest 
Grove." This had a flooring of water, which was said to improve the 
timbre of falsetto voices. Her attendants grouped themselves about 
her under a central porch, or along galleries at the sides; while the 
actors performed under a somewhat smaller shelter opposite, across 
the water. 

Or one would hear about the "dragon" who cavorted for her on 
ice, made up of a number of skaters crouched caterpillar-like under 
a yellow covering. Its huge head of decorated papier-miche had out 
of respect always to face the Empress herself. This was not so difficult; 



The Imperial L,a\es 181 

it was the tail man, one was told, who in crack-the-whip maneuvers 
had to be the clever fellow. 

So, from nomadic conquerors down to the present century, the rich 
record was spread before us. The literary vestiges became my teacher's 
preoccupation; we daily stumbled upon further discoveries. Poems 
celebrating this or that occasion took on new meaning when we could 
easily walk to the settings described in them. Perplexing allusions 
became simple oil the spot; and we made human sense again of matters 
long since forgotten. 

The point should perhaps be made that one can attempt a proper 
comparison between these pleasure grounds and the lesser ones of 
Europe only if one imagines that continent not with a number of 
capitals, but merely a single one. In China, the history of an area much 
vaster than small Europe, and very much more populous, had 
developed through more than six centuries practically from this single 
center. As one dynasty had yielded to another, these gardens, their 
site unchanged, had been only further embellished. Here Chinese 
scale and a Chinese sense of fitness had created a sylvan region not 
at some distance from the capital, but literally at its heart. Yet so 
broadly conceived was the plan that in no way did this seem illogical. 
One knew that a million and a half souls lived beyond these high 
walls; and yet from the waters of the lakes one saw only the distant 
hills, and the sun could set behind them as if in the open country. 

' How was this done? It was done in the traditional scheme of 
Chinese garden planning. The word "garden" means very different 
things in different parts of the globe. We think of our own gardens 
in terms of growing things, of flowers blooming in beds, and well- 
kept lawns. The Chinese, on the contrary, have comparatively few 
flowers in a garden; and these are most often potted, brought from 
cold-frames by the gardeners to be put on display in various garden 
houses only when they are at their best. There are no lawns. To a 
Chinese, besides the natural contours of the land and of course shade- 
giving trees, the charms of a garden are chiefly those of water and 
rockery. Water mirrors the sky, and its sparkle animates a land- 
scape; while well-shaped rock masses of it, often brought from long 



l82 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

distances with much labor moves the Chinese by its constant sug- 
gestion of the strength o nature, o what is permanent, enduring, 
and imperishable. 

There have been characters in Chinese history who have cultivated 
this taste for simple rock with an assiduity and a passion hard for 
us to evoke. In days of prosperity, wealthy amateurs made a pastime 
of collecting strange stones for their gardens. This was carried to such 
extremes that the last Northern Sung Emperor is said finally to have 
lost his throne by neglecting the business of government, while he 
absorbed himself in an attempt to create one transcendent and wholly 
artificial site. The exactions of his eunuchs and the outrageous expense 
created the wave of popular disapproval that overwhelmed the state. 
My teacher, quite converted now, even enthusiastic, painted for me a 
map of this remarkable garden as reconstructed by him after much 
reading of old texts. 

To begin any Chinese garden, whether large or small, the procedure 
is almost always the same and simple enough. It is compelling as 
child's play. One scoops out a hollow; and then heaps up the earth 
one has removed. Into the artificial depression is run water, whether 
a few feet only, or as in the imperial lakes, enough to float a whole 
court upon splendid barges. So long as boats can be poled about, so 
long as lush lotus in summer will grow from the shallow bottom, 
spreading its great flat leaves over the surface, further depth is of no 
concern. The water must flow easily, of course; and the channels for 
inlet and outlet often take the form of pretty brooks or small ravines, 
"naturally" bordered with set stones. 

The excavated earth is then made into a hill; and the hill is if 
possible made into an island; for islands give one an opportunity to 
leave the mainland, and thus to use bridges. The landscape is then 
complete. 

Rockery is introduced, in a plan like this, to make the whole seem 
finally not the work of .man, but of nature. A margin of stones is 
always used, for example, to imitate a shore line. Simulated outcrop- 
pings also come to the very sills of the garden buildings, the irregular 
meeting the polished in a contrast that seems perennially to delight 
Chinese imagination. Caves are also created, to give similar pleasures. 



The Imperial Lafes 183 

The more they suggest landscapes not of this earth, but rather in fan- 
tastic regions inhabited by the immortals, the more they are appreciated. 

On this island in the-Pei Hai there were several chains of such 
caverns, one cave leading into another. Their passageways meandered 
up and down, first underground and then suddenly back into the 
light again, or even tunneled to oddly planned buildings, equipped 
with staircases to allow the wanderer to change levels. One such tunnel, 
by an unexpected climb in the dark, led steeply upward into a fan- 
shaped garden house. The rocky steps debouched unexpectedly in 
the middle of a polished marble floor, with an effect of utter fantasy. 
To wander thus was to enter a land of genii and immortals! 

Another familiar Chinese artifice was also at its best in the Pei Hai: 
the rimming chain of hills that concealed the world outside. These were 
made simply of earth raised to a height sufficient to mask the enclosing 
walls. They were often only sparsely planted, but their contours 
simulated those of real hills. This device was further used to conceal 
buildings, either for privacy or for service. 

All this was not nature, but came near to it. The plan was never 
regular and could therefore always include or conceal further isolated 
structures. It made possible all the picturesque arrangements that spring 
to Chinese minds when they think of a great garden. Our lawns 
and flower beds, our concentration on growing flowers and clipped 
greenery, do not really interest them. They find the imaginativeness 
of their own scheme much more satisfactory. For a Chinese to make 
a garden is no less than to fashion a world as he would like it. 

The Pei Hai, as the oldest of the three lakes, held for me by far 
the most interest. It was the largest, and it also had the finest build- 
ing. There were better surprises. Its chief gate, beyond the northwest 
corner of the Forbidden City, was placed so that one could look back 
to a particularly glittering perspective of tiled pavilions and palace 
walls. 

Nearby, like a small detached fort outside the enclosure, was the 
so-called Roiind City. It was not really round but shaped like a skull; 
and some said that this proved a Mongol origin and was a concession 
to Lamaist superstition. Broad military-looking staircases, open to the 



THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 



sky, curved gently upward within its battlemented walls, and a vener- 
able white-barked pine tree, so ancient that in the eighteenth century 
Ch'ien Lung had commanded that it be formally ennobled, giving 
to it the title and dignities o a Chinese earl, spread its limbs across 
the paving on the terrace. 

Nearby was an irregular basin, hollowed from a single mammoth 
block of mottled gray-green jade, and so large that it was housed 
under an open pavilion of' its own. Carved in relief upon it were 
horses and sea monsters cavorting among jade waves. At imperial 
banquets in Mongol times this was said to have been a vat for wine. 
Since then it had had a long history. At one time it had disappeared; 
and Ch'ien Lung himself had rescued it from the monastery where it 
was rediscovered, in use as a tub for pickled vegetables. When it was 
restored to the palace once more, he ordered a full account of its 
long history, which he drew up, to be inscribed within it. 

Leaning over the ramparts crowning the thick walls of the Round 
City, one could look down upon the urban traffic flowing about its 
base, or crossing the long arched marble bridge that spanned the nearby 
waters to the west. By convention this bridge divided the northern 
from the central lake; although the two were really one. In Yuan times 
my teacher and I discovered there had been a removable central 
draw, taken away for security by imperial regulation whenever the 
Emperor was absent, thus automatically imprisoning the palace con- 
cubines. 

Once inside the entrance to the lake, one was quite near the central 
island, which rose high across a broad and ancient zigzag bridge of 
stone. As one climbed the prospect broadened. Archaeologicially one 
was on rich soil; although Chinese building being the comparatively 
perishable thing it is, there was not much from a time older than 
Ch'ing that still met the eye. The Mongol palace had long ago 
vanished, of course, and on the summit it once had crowned was now 
a religious monument of strange shape, the great white Dagoba, a 
Buddhist stupa. This to the Chinese was doubly exotic, as an impor- 
tation from India. 

First by a path winding among rocks, and finally by a short 



The Imperial La\e$ 185 

flight of steep marble steps, one could mount to a small building in 
front of its base, covered with brightest glazed tiles. Here one looked 
out not only far to the south over all the lakes, but eastward to the 
Forbidden City as well. It was one of the best views in the capital 
Generally, for this very reason, it was not long without visitors; yet 
one could have it all to oneself, like the high deck of a superbly 
decorated galleon, on days of storm and rain. 

Behind it facing north, and thus gratefully in the shade of the tower- 
ing stupa during long summer days, was a pavilion called the Hall to 
Seize the Verdure, facing toward the back of the lake. This had been 
turned into a small restaurant whereif one knew about it an ex- 
imperial cook would prepare a special variety of large round bun, 
covered with sesamum seed, which he split open and filled with 
delicately spiced hot chopped meat. It was a fine invention. To accom- 
modate the visitors who became numerous in summer, an additional 
platform had been built as if on stilts over the side of the hill, which 
here descended sharply to the lake. One could thus dine high among 
the trees. 

Later in the year, when the weather grew colder and the place became 
deserted, bundled up in extra clothing I could still have steaming frag- 
rant tea and these delectable stuffed shao-ping to go with it, here by 
myself. As the darkening colors of the evening slowly faded, it was 
a wonderful place. Far below a barge laden with water grasses might 
crawl across the lake (even what grew beneath the surface, here in 
China, was useful to someone) ; and on the north shore one could look 
off toward the Little Western Heaven, a Buddhist temple within the 
grounds; as well as toward several groups of secular buildings, includ- 
ing the ever-charming Five Dragon Pavilions, set into the lake like 
so many jeweled reliquaries, and connected by small stone bridges over 
the water. 

Completing the perspective in the northwest corner was an imposing 
group of rose-walled buildings, foursquare and set within their own 
moat, with an archway of colored tile in the center of each wall. These 
led to a sculptured Buddhist pantheon, modeled life-size and in 
full relief, representing a hierarchy of gods upon a Chinese magic 
mountain. It was called the Great Western Heaven. The sun would 



l86 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

go down in clear ruby light over the wrinkled water, now dark 
aquamarine with its lotus shriveled and gone, as these buildings first 
sharpened and then died away along the horizon. 

The northern shore of the island had been arranged as a single curv- 
ing rotunda, with marble balustrading on two levels, not unlike a 
large segment of tiered wedding cake. A two-storied covered gallery 
also curving bordered the highest level; and along its top one could 
pass through the upper floors of several lakeside pavilions. The Hall of 
Tranquil Ripples was one; that of Distant Sails another. 

Behind them had been made romantic glens of rockery, steep de- 
clivities planted with white pines. Here were also various deserted 
cabinets or book rooms their doors wide open, the books and furnish- 
ings of course long gone or porches and studies for retreat. They 
bore strange names and contrived odd surprises. Some were reached 
by vertiginous open staircases, intentionally made to curve as in a 
dream. One came upon others hidden from the world, with miniature 
internal courts of the greatest privacy. Each suggested a different 
adventure. 

At times it seemed an impossibility that the whole island with its 
rockery could all be thus completely artificial, within a lake itself dug 
by man. Time, however, had lent itself kindly to the scheme. In the 
autumn, when the great winds blew, the tall trees shed their leaves 
to cover a landscape that in the course of centuries seemed finally 
to have earned for itself a right to its entity. 

The Chung Hai or Central Lake was a region of quite contrasting 
pleasures. A year or two before my arrival, a stretch of its west 
shore had been made the site for one of Peking's most successful con- 
cessions to modernity, a good swimming pool. With tables set under its 
bordering matsheds, this place was animated all summer long. Young 
Chinese at leisure had taken to the novelty readily, liking its combina- 
tion of not over-strenuous exercise with so much gregariousness. 

Arriving in the cool of the morning, I could dally here beside the 
water's edge, usually with some task of memorizing to occupy me 
intermittently, passing here a good part of the day. There was always 



The Imperial Lafes 187 

a savory dish for lunch, often fried rice with fresh vegetables, topped 
with tea and pastries copied from the local French bakery, at a table 
near the pool; and leisurely conversations with Chinese friends to pass 
the long hours. The better part of the afternoon would have slipped 
away before I thought of returning home. 

The pool was south of a group of abandoned buildings set in a 
grove of spindly trees, with the fajade of their main hall fronting 
upon the broad marble terrace. It was named the Hall of Purple 
Effulgence; and the enclosure formerly had been dedicated to the 
military glories of the empire. Before this Hall of Purple Effulgence 
the emperors traditionally had watched military maneuvers; and here 
also, a typically Chinese arrangement, were set the physical exercises, 
the riding and archery, that were part of an examination for a military 
"Ph.D." to parallel the literary one. 

In my time these halls were completely deserted. The system that 
continued to produce only archers and to put its faith in bows and 
arrows in a time of modern weapons, maintaining in idleness banner- 
men pensioners of no ability whatever, had brought China to a 
sorry pass. The locked and abandoned buildings told their own talc. 
One had no need to enter and puzzle out long inscriptions praising 
vanished heroes, set into now dusty walls. 

Across the lake toward the palace from this place was a large temple 
group, its buildings roofed with shining plain black tile. These were set 
about with ginkgo trees, the most stately that I had ever seen. In 
Peking, in the autumn, the days become crystal clear, as under a 
burning glass when the sun is hot, although the main body of the 
air has already cooled. Here was the place for such weather, with 
sunny walled courts, shadowy halls of worship, and quiet terraces 
overlooking the water. Then, finally the snows of winter would cover 
the branches of the old trees, and drift high on the broad platforms 
before the closed temple doors until they obliterated the marble steps. 

Off the shore, now connected by a rickety wooden bridge, was one 
of the most appealing structures in all the lakes, die small Pavilion in 
the Heart of die Waters. It possessed one of the formal "Eight Famous 
Views of Peking,'* and from it one saw at their best the long marble 



l88 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

bridge with the stupa-crowned island of the North Lake beyond. 
Even today the eye here can discover almost nothing that is not sheer 
perfection. Ch'ien Lung, as usual, had ordered a large stone tablet, 
with an imperial inscription in his own hand. 

Going toward the South Lake from this place, interest waned. There 
were the usual groupings of small buildings hidden behind artificial 
hills, and also willow-planted walks along the water's edge; yet after 
the arrangements in the North Lake they roused only minor interest. 
Finally one came to a lock, over which the quiet water poured to 
a level a mere few feet below. Here began the last of the three "seas." 

Almost immediately, also, the late architecture became much more 
elaborate. One saw too much carved brick; an ineffective straining for 
effect was everywhere obvious. Scale also had become pretentious. This 
was inferior work, either over-ornate "Ch'ien Lung," or made for the 
last Empress Dowager. An artificial island had been, created off these 
shores also; and looking toward the south this did offer a broad and 
imposing view, especially from a well-placed ample open building set 
over the water in front of it. Facing sunward, this had been named 
the Pavilion to Welcome the Southern Fragrance. 

Yet to such connoisseurs as my teacher and I now had become, 
the whole island seemed overbuilt. We conceded to it only minor 
novelties, its flying galleries or its clusters of rapier rock. The tiling 
was too elaborate, and too much had everywhere been attempted at 
once. 

The site remained to us interesting chiefly for incidents that had 
occurred here as the Ch'ing dynasty had waned. It was on this island 
that the Empress Dowager had held captive her own son, the Emperor 
Kuang Hsii. A drawbridge, and eunuchs to guard it, had assured her 
plans. One could even wander freely into the now abandoned Em- 
peror-prisoner's former bedchamber, and see where two cupboard-like 
partitions had been built into the walls, one at either end of the 
imperial %ang. Each, it was said, was contrived to permit a eunuch 
to stand concealed within, during the night watches. His duty in this 
uncomfortable position was to inscribe in a register whatever tran- 
spired in the imperial alcove. Each of these was brought to the Empress 



The Imperial Lafes 189 

Dowager every morning; and by tallying them she was able to keep 
watch over the poor captive who was her own son. 

Another unfortunate, a woman, had also left traces of her passage 
through the South Lake. Not Chinese but from Aksu, far to the west, 
and a Mohammedan, she was known as the Fragrant Concubine. 
According to tales told and retold without too much historical founda- 
tion, her great beauty had led to her capture as part of the spoils of 
war in one of Ch'ien Lung's Central Asiatic campaigns. The Emperor 
is supposed subsequently to have become romantically infatuated with 
her. 

As his nominal mistress she still determined at any cost to remain 
faithful to the memory of her own husband; and at the last she could 
end only by suicide a situation that had become impossible. In spite 
of her lack of interest in him, Ch'ien Lung apparently wished to 
grant her more than any of his other favorites; and since the chief 
mosque of Peking, in the Mohammedan quarter, was merely over 
the wall of this south lake, he is said to have ordered that an upper 
room in the main gate tower be arranged for her from which she could 
look out and see her own people in lanes busy with Mohammedan 
traffic. This large entrance, probably much rearranged, still exists; and 
so does even the minaret of the mosque, across what is now an inter- 
vening boulevard. Yet in between, clanging trams and honking auto- 
mobiles go by, making unreal the imhappiness of long ago. 



CHAPTER xi A Garden in the Mind 



CHINA has suffered one outrageous loss at the hands of West- 
erners a deed of vandalism that by a single blow robbed her 
and the world of many great treasures from her past. This was the 
deplorable sack and burning, by British and French troops in 1860, 
of the great Summer Palace, the now vanished old one. The "new" 
Summer Palace, which exists today, was already in being at that time, 
so that in one sense it is not new; but it was a subsidiary creation, not 
originally intended for residence. Many of its buildings were also 
destroyed, never to be rebuilt; and the grounds of the old Summer 
Palace were so systematically laid waste that the blow proved fatal. 

The details of this incident do not here concern us; it formed the 
climax to a situation that had become progressively more involved dur- 
ing a military campaign. The ill-advised burning was deliberately 
ordered to make the Emperor himself, rather than his subjects, suffer 
for acts of treachery, and for the inexcusable torture of European 
hostages in violation of a flag of truce. Alas, the Emperor's residence 
contained much that was irreplaceable, part of the riches of the nation. 
The objects taken by French and British troops as plunder, or souvenirs 
of the campaign, were tawdry trifles compared with such rarities as 
scrolls by great artists, Chou dynasty bronzes or Sung porcelains. 
These were scarcely noticed by the looters, for our modern apprecia- 
tion of Chinese art was as yet unborn. The fires lasted for days; and 
in them perished beauty never to be replaced. So this is 'in part a 

IQO 



A Garden in the Mind 191 

chapter about a palace in the countryside not far from Peking that 
no longer exists. 

The name of the great enclosure was the Garden of Perfect Bright- 
ness, the Yuan Ming Yuan. To Chinese minds in a dwelling like this, 
palace and garden are one; for the buildings no matter how grand 
in scale were always set apart and among rocks and trees. It had 
been the favorite, and finally had become the principal residence of the 
great Ch'ien Lung. Toward the end of his life he preferred to dwell 
here even during the winter months, going to the main palace in 
Peking only for formal celebrations at the time of the New Yean 

One can consequently imagine what treasure had been heaped to- 
gether in this place during an age of great prosperity, to perish only 
three generations later, when the hazards of war forced another 
Emperor, his great grandson, to abandon it all and flee to Jehol. Here 
he was struck and killed by lightning. His flight and death, in 1860 
and 1861, were symbolical of the time of calamity for China that the 
nineteenth century had become. 

So soldiers plundered a defenseless palace; and afterward peasants 
carted off everything they could use. Strewn with heaps of rubble, 
the site reverted to primitive farming. The buildings of course had 
vanished; and except for a few old pines in the imperial family shrine, 
literally every tree had been cut down. Topography alone survived. It 
was only by frequent and prolonged visits, armed with precious 
maps, that the original plan could be reconstructed, and palace halls 
be made to rise once more in the imagination. I found a Western 
friend, a professor in the neighboring Western-style university, Yen- 
ching, with whom I set about doing this; and what we found together 
on long walks, over several years, I shall recount below. 

The artificial lakes and various water courses did in general remain, 
and most of the man-made hills were also traceable; although these, 
completely denuded, were slowly slipping back to level earth again, 
and the local farmers had everywhere constructed crude terracing to 
suit their simple needs. Overturned rockeries, and here and there 
rubble-covered foundations, sometimes a litde more, had to represent 
for us map in hand once handsome groups of buildings. After less 
than three generations the reversion was so complete, and had become 



I<)2 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

so striking a symbol of all things mortal, that at sunset, across deserted 
and reed-covered ponds where imperial barges once had idled in 
splendor, the view brought with it, by its very evocation of extremes, a 
new poetry. So deserted were these vast grounds, except for an occa- 
sional burrowing peasant, that this place, also, gradually became "ours." 

As finally completed, the Garden of Perfect Brightness is said to 
have had a circumference of some twelve miles. The character for 
"perfect" also signifies "whole" or "round"; and round was indeed the 
approximate shape of the lake in the first great section laid out by 
command of Ch'ien Lung. Later this original plan was much amplified 
by the excavation of an even larger lake, its shores studded with 
whole groups of handsome structures. Then, finally, two other already 
existing and very considerable gardens belonging to princes of the 
imperial house were also incorporated. Yet the first lake always re- 
mained the nucleus, and upon the largest island in it there were 
nine so-called "continents" in all lived the Emperor. 

The road to the main entrance branched off from a highway leading 
westward from Peking about eight miles from the city gates. As one 
came near to the walls, one first passed a bannermen's garrison for the 
palace guard, named the Village of Suspended Armor. One then turned 
between two triangular ponds in the shape of fans, the Fan Lakes, dug 
to bring freshness to the site in warm weather. They had been made 
by peasants in a time of famine, the Emperor granting survival in re- 
turn for this labor. Beyond stretched the walls of the great garden 
itself, round the circuit of which, at night, went companies of 
Manchu bannermen passing the tallies that secured the watch. 

Inside the main gate, flanked by symmetrical rows of waiting rooms, 
the main hall of audience lay straight ahead, placed near the entrance. 
In 1793, toward the end of Ch'ien Lung's reign, Sir George Stanton, 
Secretary of Lord Macartney's mission from George III to the Chinese 
Emperor, visited this building; and we have a description of it-^even 
including a floor plan, slightly erroneous in his subsequently pub- 
lished report. 

For many years not only this Emperor but also his grandfather before 
him, had employed a band of able Jesuits, chosen for many varied 



A Garden in the Mind 193 

skills, to serve the court exclusively. Ch'ien Lung, indeed, had installed 
certain of them in a kind of studio within this very garden, not far 
from the entrance and off to one side. (My archaeological friend, 
who had a special interest in the doings of the Jesuits, traced its site 
with particular satisfaction.) Father Castiglione, an artist of charm and 
capability who headed this group, was even granted the unheard-of 
privilege of riding, mounted on a donkey, anywhere within the Sum- 
mer Palace^-so many were the tasks that the Emperor assigned him. 

The main throne hall, of which we could just trace the foundation, 
must in its day have been quite similar to many still standing within 
the Forbidden City. It served for business of state and was therefore 
placed before the garden proper. Behind it was a high spreading screen 
of rockery making a barrier of separation completely in the Chinese 
taste, through which one passed inward obliquely. 

Then the lake opened out, with its nine islands forming a circle 
upon the waters, each at no great distance from the shore. The largest 
of them, nearest the entrance, was built over with courtyards. Here 
dwelt the Emperor himself and also the members of his intimate 
family. On old maps it looks curiously like a hive, with many cells. 
Here were the courts for wives and concubines, for imperial children 
and grandchildren, a numerous group: the first in die empire, of 
course, but living communally as a Chinese family nonetheless. 

The other islands, connected by picturesque bridges, made a circuit 
of the lake. Each had been planned, with undulating hills thrown up, 
either to afford privacy or grant a view, to surprise with one novel 
effect or to soothe with another. One, for example, was given wholly 
to rockery and peonies; another simulated a rustic farm. A third 
housed a temple; a fourth an elegant secluded library. Here was every 
charm and refinement in an elaborate age that could be drawn from 
virtually limidess resources. 

Armies of the lower grades of eunuchs must have been necessary to 
care for the site. Once one could stroll at will along curving path- 
ways, or else go about in light skiffs. There were numerous bridges 
set zigzag over the water; and at a certain place there was even a long 
marble one, arched over its own pond, placed there solely for its reflec- 



194 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

tion. We knew the intent of such sites from poems composed to describe 
themall illustrated and printed by imperial command. 

Man had here imagined a whole region, quite unreal, and of great 
perfection, corresponding with his most refined tastes. In its time of 
glory it must have been an incredible place. The Yuan Ming Yuan 
is what the Chinese dream of when they think of a perfect garden: a 
collection of many different and surprising buildings, each in its own 
setting among trees, rocks, and flowing water, at the edge of the 
shores of a lake, and under the open sky. 

So imperious was the desire to have here not* what nature had 
created, but instead what would please man, that during certain 
final demolitions in my time it was discovered that parts of the original 
site had actually been a swamp. Hills had first been made, and then 
upon them had been set buildings; but for some of these it had been 
necessary to lay deep foundations several times their height, with 
piles driven into wet mud and clay. The moisture had actually pre- 
served these timbers of I know not what wood and so I watched 
peasants come, two centuries later, to secure them by their labor, since 
they still were of value. 

Several zones to the rear of the nine islands bordering the round 
lake had first been added to the original garden. Far toward the north- 
west was an ancestor temple that in majesty yielded to none in Peking. 
About it once rose stately evergreens within high walls; here all 
had .been silence and dignity* Until a comparatively few. years ago 
vestiges were still standing, enough to make interesting photographs 
that we still have. Since then almost everything had disappeared. 

In the extreme northwest corner, behind, was a mountain of piled 
rock called the Cold Hill, which the Emperor ascended by ancient 
custom once a year, on the feast of the ninth day of the ninth moon. At 
this time it was fitting for him to climb to a height and look afar as 
did that evening all his subjects. Only the Emperor's hill had been 
created for him. 

Behind the original lake and islands were rice fields, laid out to 
simulate open country. In a great garden such as this, emperors often 
sought to have interspersed with imperial magnificence something to 



A Garden in the Mind 195 

remind them of the humble destinies of the "Hundred Old Surnames" 
the masses of the people. Their residence thus became a microcosm 
of the empire. The air blowing from these rice paddies, irrigated with 
clear running water, was also considered healthful. 

In this region there had stood a notable building of two stories 
that had housed a great library. It had been copied from a famous 
example in the South, in Ningpo, and stood within its own lakelet. 
(We wandered much here, tracing the vistas from within.) On the 
shelves had been deposited one of the four copies in the empire of a 
great compendium, including all that imperial command had been 
able to assemble, of the whole body of Chinese literature. This, tided 
The Complete Boo\s of the Four Treasuries, had been too enormous, 
finally, to print, and so it was copied out in manuscript. It, too, had 
vanished in the flames of 1860. 

Thus, building after building was now present in our minds only. 
Yet occasionally one still came across some fragment of carved marble 
balustrade, or other trifle, which had escaped being carted to the local 
kilns for its lime. There was also one towering rock from Lake Tai, 
cut with a number of inscriptions, lying prone before the library's 
vanished entrance. The pond surrounding it was dry. Upon it Ch'ien 
Lung had recounted grandiloquently how he had come to order this 
building, copied from its famous prototype halfway across the empire. 

There were other sites to explore. One was a racecourse, used for 
military exercises as well. A gallery had once existed alongside this, for 
the Emperor's use when he wished to be present. This field, too, 
was on ground probably added to the original plan; by now we could 
follow, step by step, here under the open sky, how the imperial 
ambitions had expanded. "Here we are passing under this arch!" 
"Now we have reached the next wall!" Neither of course existed. 

Yet the area occupied by these supplementary buildings was minor 
compared with the enlargement now begun. To the east was dug out 
a new and greater lake, which became the central one. This was roughly 
square in shape, and almost half a mile long on each side. It was 
given the name of Happy Sea. At its center rose a group of three small 
islands called after fairy ones off the North China coast. Two had 
architecture simulating that in paintings of this legendary region by 



ig6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

a celebrated Tang dynasty artist; the third was more rustic, a retreat 
here in the heart of the waters. All were connected by bridges. 

Set at intervals along the shores of the Happy Sea were other mar- 
velous constructions; and behind rimming hills to the north, screened 
from the lake but near, were placed boathouses necessary for a whole 
fleet of barges. Novelty followed novelty: one group of double-storied 
buildings, placed on a high foundation, was connected with its sym- 
metrical outlying pavilions by flying bridges on an upper level. Or a 
water gate was pierced through a section of simulated city wall. One 
could pass under this by boat, to land in a sequestered region between 
two further bodies of water. The place was curiously named There Is 
a Further Recess of Heaven: one had entered another world. 

Nearby was a group called The Double Mirror and the Sound of the 
Lute. The name came from a celebrated verse describing a place here 
imitated, which appeared as if afloat, all brightness and reflection. 
The poem had mentioned the sound of a waterfall nearby; so upon the 
top of one of the bounding hills a reservoir was dug; and water was 
hoisted bucket by bucket to this height from a deep well. (One day 
we scrambled up the hill, to discover that the old lock which had con- 
trolled the flow was still in place.) It must have taken hours of toil to 
produce only the briefest effect, timed so that the waterfall might 
play as the Emperor passed. 

Thus we wandered about, resurrecting one vanished setting after 
another. On the west shore of the Happy Sea we traced a section of 
walled Indian town, a replica, our texts said, of Sravasti, where had 
occurred many miraculous events in the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. 
A paved granite causeway led south from its main gate, once bordered 
with shops and houses such as might be found in an ordinary Chinese 
city. Here in the New Year season the eunuchs customarily put on a 
lively showwith farces reproducing for the court the brisk traffic 
of a market town. This was also the site of an annual fair. 

A Jesuit priest was once admitted, and he has left a record. It 
constitutes that rarity, a description of intimate scenes of court life 
recorded by a European eyewitness. We are told that the wares dis- 
played on this street were transferred from the best shops in Peking. 



A Garden in the Mind lyj 

The Emperor also customarily arrived with his daughters to join in the 
fun, jesting at their efforts to drive good bargains; for on this one 
occasion, imitating ordinary mortals, they attempted real shopping. 

Farther south again beyond the lake with the marble bridge created 
solely for its reflection were the imperial schoolrooms. Here the young 
princes, sons and grandsons of the Emperor, were placed under the 
best instructors; and it is rekted that Ch'ien Lung himself often 
visited the classes, to make sure that their studies were being pursued 
with diligence. 

Yet all this was still not enough. The Emperor was seized with a 
rage for enlargement. He now further incorporated the pair of de- 
tached gardens already completed for imperial princes. Their walls, 
though, were not dismantled, merely pierced to allow for the passage 
of barges. Near the shores of a body of water in a far corner, finally, 
was set the largest piling of strange rock in the palace enclosure. This 
was an imitation of the Lion Grove in Soochow, one of the famous 
gardens in Chinese history. Such copyings were apparently far from 
literal: what was wanted was chiefly something to stimulate the im- 
agination. 

On a long and narrow strip of land now added behind these enlarge- 
ments, there was finally begun that late and extraordinary folly of the 
period of Ch'ien Lung an extensive group of structures of special 
interest to* ourselves die so-called Foreign Buildings. Since nearly all 
these were constructed with cut stone, rather than of wood with 
brick, Chinese fashion, more of the ruins still existed. (Many had 
enough substructure still in place to afford us, with the help of con- 
temporary engravings and old photographs, the excitement of putting 
the whole quite acceptably back into place in the imagination. We 
were now, my learned friend and I, "garden stalking," as experts.) 

The scale had been majestic, the materials of the solidest Although 
their baroque architecture, as designed by the Italian priest Castiglione, 
seems quite to have lacked subtlety in proportioning as was perhaps 
inevitable with work executed by Chinese artisans the general effect 
must have been striking. A number of concessions had been made to 
Chinese taste. There was, for example, so much glazed tile no doubt 



198 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

used to add color essential in Chinese eyes that not only were Euro- 
pean roofs and chimneys built up of it, but even classical pilasters and 
entablatures, applied to the various facades, as well. There were many 
details of carved stone some curiously misunderstood by the local 
stoneworkers although no use of the human figure whatever. Effects 
were hybrid throughout. In all the history of the transfer of archi- 
tectural styles I had never come across any more intriguing singular- 
ity than this experiment in "Europeenerie" (if one may coin such, a 
word) which here in the tranquil countryside beyond Peking con- 
stituted an eighteenth-century Chinese counterpart to the chinoiseric 
at this very time flourishing exuberantly in all die courts of Europe. 

First there had been erected, apparently somewhat as a trial, a single 
building with a hemicycle of curving, glass-paned galleries a novelty 
to the Chinese which served as an orangery. At the back were two 
smaller buildings, one to house the waterworks for some small foun- 
tains in its pools these a complete innovation in the Chinese tradi- 
tionand the other a voltere or peacock cage, an idea also foreign. 
(All this had been swept away, but in our minds, helped by the en- 
gravings which kept revealing to us one detail after another, as we 
learned to interpret them, we now could see it clearly.) 

Behind had been laid out a boxwood maze, altogether like familiar 
ones then the rage in Europe. (We had a very convincing engraving 
of this.) The plan, however, also included a small raised pavilion, 
from which it is said that that Emperor used to amuse himself watch- 
ing the court ladies vainly endeavoring to find their way through 
blind turnings and passages. The Jesuits, it was apparent, had racked 
their brains for every device that would amuse. 

Then, presumably stimulated by this first experiment, the Emperor's 
imagination seems really to have been roused. A new axis was made 
at right angles to the first group; and although the further strip of 
land was narrow, it was very long. Here one new arrangement after 
another was called into existence; the Western folly began to take on 
imperial scale. (Our own pursuit also became exciting. We discovered 
further documents in the library of the Catholic fathers in*the cathedral 
within the city walls.) 

First there was a foreign canal winding about a rectangular building 



A Garden in the Mind 199 

of imaginative baroque architecture, called A Look Abroad. The latter 
word was applied, though, in Chinese minds to anything exotic; so for 
some reason this gave on to a series of open pavilions constructed 
entirely of bamboo. 

There followed a much larger and grander group, set across the 
new axis, the Hall of Peaceful Seas. On either side of double external 
staircases in high baroque style, cascades descended in runnels, the 
water splashing along as it glided downward, finally to fall into a 
pool before the entrance. Grouped symmetrically about this pool were 
statues, not of half -clothed gods or goddesses in Confucian China that 
would have been impossible but of the twelve beasts of the Chinese 
horary cycle. These were conceived as half human, and also half horse, 
or pig, or serpent, and so on; very strange inventions. Each was also 
a symbol for a length of time the exact equivalent of two of our 
Western hours. These figures were made to spout jets of water, each in 
its turn, so this fountain also served as a clock. (We were almost 
able to overhear the Jesuits, in imaginary conversations, as they must 
have conferred while planning such effects.) 

It had become hazardous for priests, whose knowledge of hydraulic 
engineering was self-acquired, to satisfy the Emperor's growing interest 
in fountains. They were aware of the unthinkable peril of an accident 
in the calculations for their tanks. So in planning the next and 
finally grandest arrangement, behind the Hall of Peaceful Seas, they 
apparently resolved to run no risks. The retaining walls (fragments of 
which still stood) were of extraordinary thickness. To make more 
sightly this vast bastion, designed also to house a pumping machine 
within, upon its flat top they further contrived a shallow pool under 
a grape arbor. Italianate staircases led up to this, a Chinese "hanging 
garden," set above a great pile of vigorous baroque architecture. 

They now planned an imperial throne of marble set at a place from 
which the fountains could be seen at their finest The throne was 
backed by a high screen of marble decorated with sculptured trophies. 
(These we simply found, one day, lying abandoned in a grassy corner 
in the nearby garden o Prince T?ai T'ao. We knew at oace, from 
our engravings, what we had discovered!) 

To realize the innovation of all the new waterworks, one must 
remember that to the traditional Chinese, a fountain is a dubious 



200 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

interference with nature. Water might run downward, as in a water- 
fall, still in harmony with the laws of the world even if coolies had 
to sweat for hours to produce a few moments of surprise and diversion. 
Yet to make water spurt upward: this was extremely daring! Only 
an Emperor might experiment with such things brought from abroad, 
which the sages moreover long ago had specifically condemned as 
unnatural. 

Backing the perspective of the fountains was the most imposing 
building of all, set on a high base to which one acceded by ramps. 
Here were columns of the most elaborate stone carving. European 
furniture, European mirrors, clocks and tapestries, presumably had 
also once made rich its interior. (We learned, my friend and I, that a 
whole set of tapestries had been presented by Louis XV to Ch'ien 
Lung and quite a few survived, in widely separated places. We also 
went to see one painting in the Bishop's parlor beside the cathedral, 
presumably a perspective view of the chief interior in this very place.) 
Yet except for overturned stones, this grandest of all the Foreign 
Buildings existed no longer. 

When all had still been erect, though, one next progressed through 
a triumphal arch in high baroque style to a completely circular mound, 
known as the Hill of the Perspective. Looking off from the summit 
one saw still another gate, opening on the farther side. Through this 
the visitor came finally to perhaps the most fanciful arrangement in 
the whole region: a place where a large oblong waterpiece had been 
dug* in front of an outdoor theater. The brick wings on the sloping 
stage, using diminishing perspective, imitated houses of Western 
architecture. Here at the end of this region given over to elaborate, 
indeed fantastic, experiment, one came upon paned windows and high 
projecting chimneys. 

Nothing actually remained but a few crumbled fragments of rubble 
wall. Like the whole garden this place too was chimerical. Yet looking 
backward I can half believe that, somewhere and somehow, my friend 
and I must have glimpsed it in its heyday perhaps when the Jesuit 
Dom Pedrini was playing European music for the Chinese court, and, 
surrounded by his womenfolk, the Emperor had arrived for novel 
theatricals, after watching a display at the fountains. 



CHAPTER xii Summer Palaces 



TT TE HAVE wandered through the strange ruins of a garden that 
VV dissolved into a wraith o the imagination. Let us turn from it 
to one that still exists at the new Summer Palace. Beyond doubt the 
largest of such arrangements still kept up in China, for the tourist this 
was the Summer Palace! The other he "scarcely heard of, and would 
almost surely never go to visit, lying ; as it did off the direct motor 
road from Peking. Yet this newer collection of buildings either front- 
ing an artificial lake or built into the recesses of a steep and isolated 
natural hill rising behind it was inferior, even though in its arrange- 
ment and scale it was still imperial. 

As we see the buildings today, they are in general a restoration of 
what was demolished in 1860; although here the intentional destruction 
seems to have been less complete, and a rebuilding was undertaken 
after the Garden of Perfect Brightness had been rendered uninhabitable. 
The Empress Dowager also conceived for this place a special affection; 
and as a result most of the architecture bears the dubious stamp of 
her time. 

Its history goes back, as usual, to the Emperor Ch'ien Lung. Even 
when his great palace nearby was virtually complete, he could not 
restrain himself from further building. The new site, the Mount of 
Longevity, takes its name from the picturesque hill a sudden final 
outcropping, standing apart, of the range descending from the Western 
Hills to .the Peking plain that would have been a temptation to any- 

201 



202 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

one. Its nearness to the Jade Fountain made new watercourses easy; 
and the Emperor apparently could not resist adding still more places 
to the magic acres where the imperial barges could float on their 
gliding journeys. 

So a dam was made to contain still further waters, and the lake 
thus formed became extremely handsome and open. Of all the gardens 
that I know in China, this is the only one where the details seem to 
have been planned to produce a single all-embracing effect, centered 
about the shores of this large lake. Thus even to its plan the new 
Summer Palace is a late creation. 

After the new works had been ordered, the Emperor seems to have 
felt perturbed in conscience. He had already put himself on record 
in stone that with a single palace, his Garden of Perfect Brightness, 
he would be content. Yet in a further inscription, on a tablet now 
erected here, he explains that he has never used this new garden as 
a place of residence, for which there was indeed no excuse, but only 
for excursions to secure repose when free from the burdens and 
responsibilities of state. In this curious detailed justification, he states 
that he has never spent a single night within the enclosure. 

The plan does reflect this. There are dwelling courts by the lake- 
side, to be sure, arranged both for the Empress Dowager and for her 
son, the Emperor Kuang Hsu; but they are of later date. These 
nineteenth-century living apartments, further, are comparatively simple 
in extent and obviously supplementary. Even the hall used for audi- 
ences, near the main gate, where the Empress received her reports 
from court functionaries when she was in residence, is not large, 
although it is a dignified building. 

The charm of the new Summer Palace lies in the sweep of its open 
views over the broad waters of the lake, backed toward the sunset by 
the amethyst Western Hills. One breathes, there, good air, and one 
can see long distances. In the center of the lake was a large artificial 
isknd, with temple buildings and halls for repose, and terraces of 
marble balustrading overlooking the water. On stormy days it became 
a special pleasure for me to promenade on them above its rock-bound 
shores, watching the plashing of small dark waves under a wind-swept 
sky. 

Here in my time was also a restaurant, generally deserted, run as 



Summer Palaces 203 

an accommodation for a tourist "industry" that never developed. I even 
spent several nights in certain glittering palace rooms o an adjoining 
courtyard, during one brief period when they were opened as a part 
of this plan. The scheme met with no success, though: wealthy 
Chinese could not be regimented and made to travel. Yet the island, 
with its paved courts, its gold-decorated vermilion buildings, their 
beam painting brilliant with color, all splendid under trees now grown 
sturdy and tall, did achieve a palatial effect and from its courts one 
looked out upon quite ideal scenery. 

Access to it by land was across a long curving bridge of no less than 
seventeen arches, leading from a causeway crowning the dam. Across 
the lake to the north, opposite, a bastion of cut stone, broad and high, 
projected boldly in front of the Mount. At the center of its flat terrace, 
placed like a reliquary upon a pedestal, stood a pagoda-like structure 
of many stories with elaborate eaves of colored tie. Those of us who 
knew the history of this place knew though that it was a lower re- 
building of what had originally been a much taller and prouder 
tower. So it never gave much satisfaction, being so much less than 
the pinnacle Ch'ien Lung had once ordered to crown the whole. 

Mammoth slabs of jagged ornamental rock, which must have 
entailed extravagant amounts of labor to transport, covered much of 
this hill "naturally." On either side of the projecting bastion there 
were also descending courtyards, balancing each other symmetrically. 
Many of the further arrangements were novel. There were towers with 
great Tibetan prayer wheels; there was one aedicule upon a peak 
made altogether of weighty bronze, even to the tiles of its roof and its 
simulated latticework. On one axis was also a great memorial tablet, a 
monolith of giant size, bearing the imperial inscription for the entire 
site. Yet all these effects were obvious, duller and more conventional 
in some way than the earlier work. 

Below and almost level with the lake, yet still centered on the 
bastion, was propped a broad quintuple p'ai-lou. Here a covered 
gallery, stretching in both directions for nearly a quarter of a mile 
beside the lake, gave way to a large forecourt in front of the main 
yellow-tiled halls. This gallery, which was celebrated, also achieved 
too obvious an effect. In my time it was constantly being photographed 
by visitors, tempted by its long vistas of diminishing perspective. One 



204 rHE> 

could walk along it the whole way from near the outer entrance even 
as far as the Empress's marble barge. 

This as modernized architecturally was quite dreadful. It had an 
enclosure of jigsaw carpentry serving as an upper deck, laughably 
reminiscent of a nineteenth-century steamboat. Its windows were made 
hideous by foreign glass, with panes of intense color; and its carved 
woodwork reeked of Western vulgarity. Yet the fantasy of a stone 
boat, which does not move, had been long familiar to the Chinese, 
who enjoy sitting comfortably upon it and jesting about journeys that 
they are making in their imaginations. At least its location here, at 
the end of a long covered walk, had originally been well planned. 

High above, edging the square bastion, was another and diminished 
variant of this same type of gallery. I remember climbing the steep 
stone steps along the raking faces of the bastion, one winter's morning, 
to look back on the lake from this vantage point. The landscape at 
that moment was surprisingly like a gold and white screen, picked 
out with the silver of ice on the lake and of snows stretching to the 
horizon. Mist caught by the sun made it a vision of another world, 
in which the palace buildings in glittering color represented perfectly 
the dwellings of the immortals. At that hour, as I loitered high in 
these charmed expanses of silence and space, gratefully sipping hot 
tea at a small table set out in the narrow passage aloft in the sky, by 
some wonder the world of Chinese imagination transformed itself 
into reality. 

There were also country walks about the irregular curving walls 
bounding the lake to the south; and other broad ones upon flat cause- 
ways going across the water. These last were provided with high 
camel-back bridges, which allowed for the passage of barges. Weeping 
willows grew luxuriantly upon them, leaning toward the water on 
either side. On a windy autumn day, as their small dry saber-shaped 
leaves flew through the air, this was an exhilarating place in which to 
take better exercise a Western need that I never outgrew than 
was usual in palaces. 

At the back of the new Summer Palace, over the crest of its hill, 
was a completely other region. This slope was nearly always in 



Summer Palaces 205 

shadow since it faced north, and it had of course no views of the lake. 
From its heights, though, one could look down on peaceful farming 
country just over the palace wall. The destructions of 1860 were very 
apparent on this side, and much had been left untouched since that 
time. The later effort had been to create a show over the top of the 
hill, overlooking the lake. One temple in tolerable repair still crowned 
this back slope; it had no doubt survived because it was of mortar 
and brick rather than of wood. Its walls were made with rows of 
external green glazed niches, each filled with a small Buddha an 
obvious architectural tour de force. A number of ruined stupas, also 
of glazed tile, were on the terraced heights, and rose-colored walls 
still begrimed from the fires of long ago bordered the deserted upper 
walks. 

On the way toward these steep regions there was a much brighter 
paved and rectangular open place, provided with stone benches. High 
trees, set within a courtyard long since vanished, here caught the sun 
aloft; and the ruins against the hillside were tranquil and smiling. 
This small piazza always reminded me, in its classical dignity,, of 
canvases by Hubert Robert. It was pleasant to come to it and walk 
upon the even stones, savoring its pleasant blend of architectural ruin 
with the charms of nature. 

At the foot of the rear slope of the hill was a winding gorge, which 
once must have been the most ambitious piece of artificial topography 
in the whole region. Ch'ien Lung's mother was a southerner; and 
it was said she at times longed to see her native hills again. So with 
filial piety on an imperial scale, the Emperor had ordered made for 
her this section of waterway, in which the hills, planted with all 
things suitable for such a landscape, imitated those of her native 
province. Here, during the festival of the New Year, another street 
fair was held much like that in the old Summer Palace. Only here it 
was old Soochow, the famous city of Central China, that was imitated. 
The scheme was elaborate, but it served for pleasures simple-hearted 
enough. 

The winding stream in this gorge, coming from the Jade Fountain, 
finally reached the one place in the grounds where it changed levels. 
The fall was of a few feet only; yet every possible effect had been 



206 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

drawn from it. First there was a miniature rapid, then a small water- 
fall. A large slab of rock nearby was inscribed with two characters 
reading "Wisteria Moon"; and nearby there had indeed been arranged 
an arbor overgrown with this vine. The whole was planned to be 
seen from a small rustic bridge, placed at just the right distance away. 

Passing along a winding road, one soon entered a separate en- 
closure completely walled in, a palace reproduction of a well-known 
southern garden. Here were engaging pavilions over the water, and 
from low seats between their columns one could look down at fish 
swimming among waving grasses- One could progress irregularly, in 
part on land, and in part on tiny causeways built across the inlets of 
a small central lake. There were various houses for repose, and a 
lofty sunny hall to be used as a library. Either in sun or rain, every- 
where one could also walk under roofed galleries, always with a 
continuous view and changing perspectives. Ch'ien Lung, as was to 
be expected, had lavished a series of his own poems upon the place; 
and as one wandered one could read comment after comment in the 
imperial hand, incised upon marble or carved on wood. In winter 
the enclosure became ideal to enjoy the enchantments of frost and 
snow, with the little pond at its heart changed to shining ice. 

There were other detached villas, smaller places, in corners near 
the rear palace wall. In my time they had been rented out by the 
authorities and were silently inhabited by what must have been 
families of the greatest discretion, for although one might find windows 
open, and odd objects hanging here or there, one never saw any other 
indication of life. This was always a withdrawn region. Nearby, how- 
ever, one could reach the back wall itself, and from the top of hills 
thrown up intentionally to overlook it, see peasants cheerfully traveling 
the dusty open road below, in carts or on foot, laughing and talking 
as they went; or else working silently in the nearby fields. Merely 
thus to look out was said once to have been a pastime much valued 
by court ladies. Their lives were so confined and artificial that to see 
free human creatures, moving about as in another world, excited 
their curiosity. 

Once restored from the disasters of 1860, the Mount of Longevity 
became the chief summer residence of the Empress Dowager. Even 



Summer Palaces 207 

in remote corners it bore her stamp. Annually she would progress to 
it by barge along the canal from Peking, playing cards with her ladies- 
in-waiting (and she always had to win) on the short but slow journey. 
Starting from the city walls, only one change was necessary. This 
was at a lock in front of the temple of Wan Shou Ssu, where there 
was a small traveling palace, the shell of which still exists. Here she 
would customarily descend to rest, before changing to a somewhat 
smaller boat on the higher level, which took her finally through the 
palace walls by a water gate broad enough to allow for barges, and 
then across the lake directly to a jetty in front of her own courts. 

Within the palace enclosure were her embroiderers, whose work- 
shop she would often visit, .to see what progress was being made with 
projects in hand particularly for her high Manchu slippered clogs, 
which she wished always to have fresh and elegant. Manchu women, 
of course, did not have bound feet as did the Chinese, but to be well 
shod was a point of pride. Here, too, were the courtyards where were 
bred her little Pekingese dogs; of these she was especially fond. She 
walked about much and often, always followed by a small retinue 
bearing a whole collection of assorted objects that she might suddenly 
require a small stool, a cushion, or perhaps her fan or water pipe. 
The new Summer Palace was her garden, her estate. 

Something of this vanished life would come back to the lake-front 
on the rare days when the civic authorities of the moment gave large 
receptions, with formal cards of invitation, as was occasionally done. 
Then the palace was in gala dress, all the halls open, and the refresh- 
ments superb. At such times the state barges would be out on the lake, 
manned by their crews of oarsmen; and all were free to mount and 
ride. The old men in charge still remembered how it had once 
been done, so there was quite an air of ceremony to these unhurried 
excursions. The largest of the barges was of two stories, with sloping 
Chinese roofs of wood imitating imperial yellow tile; and its main 
cabin was furnished like a small Chinese drawing room. Through its 
wide open windows, beyond the low, pretty, furniture set against the 
papered walls, the landscapes of the lake swung about as the boat 
went here and there. 

I once heard a story of how, during the season of the lotus, the 
Empress had her tea perfumed in this place. The large rose flowers, 



208 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

when first they come to bloom, close their petals each night, to open 
them the next morning. At dusk, therefore, ladies-in-waiting, from 
shallow skiffs that could make headway through the thick round 
leaves, deftly placed within them little packages of tea wrapped in 
soft paper. These were left during the night in the hearts of the 
flowers, to be gathered when they opened at dawn again. They then 
would be delicately perfumed with that scent so difficult to describe, 
and yet so fragrant that it almost may be said to represent by itself 
the dignity and beauty of the Chinese ideal of life. 

Round about this region of the two summer palaces, old and new, 
were many smaller and yet ample gardens that in Manchu times had 
belonged to various princes. Since die court was often here for a large 
portion of the year, it was natural enough that the Emperor's mother, 
his many brothers and kinsmen, should also have residences nearby. 
There had been large properties of this kind for some time before the 
advent of the Manchus. Here a certain Marquis Li, whose daughter 
became a consort of one of the Ming emperors, possessed a garden 
famous in all China. It was specially renowned for its handsome tall 
trees; and vestiges of it without the trees could still be traced in 
what had become part of the grounds of the present Yenching Uni- 
versity. The site still kept its old name, the Ladle Garden, presumably 
from the winding shape of its former lake. 

It required four or five years of patience, waiting for occasions when 
one could appropriately be allowed to visit and also be free to explore 
to reconstruct something of the former appearance of this collection 
of minor gardens. The aged Prince Ts'ai T'ao still lived in the best of 
them, poetically named the Garden of Moonlit Fertility; and although 
one could wander at will through the grounds, his own courtyards 
were always kept closed. Adjoining were several once imposing but 
now abandoned sites, in deplorable yet picturesque disorder; and 
certain outlying ones had gone even further back into the soil, their 
land farmed by the local peasants. 

All of these places had small lakes imaginatively arranged; although 
the buildings were in general completely in ruins. Like so much of 
the old China everything in them seemed now to have tumbled down. 



Summer Palaces 209 

The name o one o these abandoned structures, seen at its best across 
an idyllic body of quiet water, I always remember with pleasure; it 
was called the Tower of the Floating Mirror. There were many hills 
and caves, of course, always artificial; and everywhere quantities of 
old rockery. This last might still remain intact even though the 
buildings long ago had been plundered for more immediately useful 
materials. Among these ruins also, the human insect, antlike, every- 
where had been at work. 

One or two gardens were in better state than this, in particular a 
large one kept in good repair as the property of a rich old woman, 
Yiieh Lao T'ai T'ai, the matriarch of a family of prosperous Chinese 
druggists. Such latter and bourgeois splendors, though, were invariably 
in poor and degenerated taste; abandon was really more agreeable. 

The impression finally formed that in its heyday this region had 
concentrated a sizeable part of the riches of the imperial house and 
of families related to it. The nearby village of Hai Tien had been the 
marketplace supplying local needs; and it was said that the palace 
eunuchs spent large sums there daily. Peculation was so outrageous, 
however, that when a commodity reached its final destination, in one 
palace or another, it no longer bore any relation to its original price. 
The chief eunuchs in consequence grew enormously rich. 

The Emperor K'ang Hsi in his day had no stomach for such 
extravagance. Then there had been much more simplicity; and it is 
recounted that he liked to go about the countryside incognito and 
almost unaccompanied, mounted on a black donkey. Ch'ien Lung's 
mother later had a garden of size and consequence across from that 
formerly used by K'ang Hsi; although both of these, except for a few 
slight traces, had by my time gone back to the soil. This last Empress 
had so much enjoyed the ringing from the forges in nearby Hai Tien, 
where the local armorers also worked, that they were commanded to 
keep their hammers going, even when there was no particular work 
to do, merely to give her die pleasure of this sound. The story reminds 
one of that Empress of Chinese antiquity whose ears were similarly 
ravished by the sound of tearing silk. Rain on banana leaves, or on the 
dried leaves of the lotus in the autumn, were also known to be 
specially pleasure-giving. It was in discussing such enjoyments as these 



210 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

with my Elder Born that I learned peculiarities of the Chinese spirit. 
As time went on, we have seen, Ch'ien Lung's projects swallowed 
a number of the minor gardens, even though for some the walls had 
been left intact. It was the duty of the imperial guard to make the 
round of the whole enclosure, especially during the watches of the 
night, which were carefully set. Their numerous garrison villages 
were common features of the surrounding region; as were also a 
number of simulated Tibetan watchtowers, and odd sections of fortifica- 
tion with no particular beginning or end for use in military exercises. 
Centuries of construction, in a region blessed with good water, had 
finally metamorphosed a whole section of the plain beyond the capital. 
When one passed beyond it, one always became aware that history 
and embellishment ceased simultaneously; and then began again the 
dusty, timeless, North Chinese countryside. 

From the existence of these so ample palaces for residence in summer, 
only a comparatively few miles from the walls of Peking, one must 
not deduce that the court never went on journeys to more distant 
regions during the warm weather. In Ming times, once the capital 
had been transferred from Nanking, the emperors on the whole did 
travel comparatively little. There was never a Ming summer palace 
at this place. They were a true Chinese dynasty, in contrast both with 
their Yuan predecessors and their Manchu followers, and for gener- 
ation after generation they seem to have led a quite sedentary existence, 
much of it within the walls of the capital. 

Their Ch'ing successors, however, had come from the Northland 
Mukden was always regarded by them as their original and true home. 
Even the last Empress Dowager carefully maintained these memories. 
Manchu as a language was indeed given up the Manchus took special 
pride in the purity of their Chinese speech except for a preliminary 
formula or two retained at court ceremonies. Yet the tombs of the 
first rulers of the imperial house were in Mukden, and within that 
city another, although much smaller, palace was maintained. 

There existed, however, a still further northern site much more 
suitable for the summer sojourns of the Ch'ing court than any urban 
palace, one high in the uplands and healthful, fitted by every advantage 



Summer Palaces 211 

of site to be what it became for years, a summer capital. This was 
Jehol as the West has decided to spell it a name derived from two 
Chinese words, Je Ho, meaning simply Warm River. Hot springs, 
indeed, combined with excellent hunting grounds, made the attrac- 
tions of the site. Here K'ang Hsi customarily came in summer to 
enjoy a freer life than was possible merely in gardens outside Peking. 
Here when the plain was baked by summer heat, was cool weather. 

We have one vivid and detailed European account of how the 
court passed the warm days in this place, a description by the seven- 
teenth-century Jesuit, Father Ripa, who enjoyed K'ang Hsi's special 
favor. Father Ripa tells us how the Emperor courteously insisted that 
he precede the entire retinue when the court moved up from Peking. 
This was a great honor; but the dust and clamor raised by the great 
train were known to be extremely wearying, and the Emperor had 
wished to spare him these. 

The gardens as described by Father Ripa seem in K'ang Hsi's time 
to have been brought to great perfection, as was possible since the 
site, although in a dry region, nevertheless had abundant water. Even 
today its springs make green broad stretches of park land, altogether 
a rarity in China. On a happy journey there, one summer, it was 
pleasant to ramble about fresh meadows and observe how little the 
nibbling deer feared the visitor. 

Father Ripa's account gives us an intimate view of K'ang Hsi at 
ease in this summer retreat, either arranging pleasures for his aging 
mother, or amusing himself heartily during excursions on the water 
with the palace concubines. It must be remembered that except for 
a rare and quite formal boat ride conferred upon specially deserving 
ministers who thereupon generally felt stirred, by tradition, to record 
their praises in verse there was literally no society here such as we 
of the West might expect. These charming bodies of water, these 
rustic islands and bosky groves were never used as a setting for 
guests, for mixed company, or for any general gatherings. Such was 
the adamant requirement of Chinese decorum, which had been 
adppted in its entirety by the Manchus. All here was for the One Man, 
or for his numerous family, alone. To many of its lesser members, 
especially to concubines past their brief day of favor, the rigidity of 



212 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the system must have entailed lifelong confinement and hopeless 
ennui. 

It was in the long reign of Ch'ien Lung that Jehol reached its 
apogee. The court, then, was brilliant; and the Emperor deliberately 
made use of his great hunting parties, or elaborate religious cere- 
monies also held here, to gain far-reaching political ends. For although 
this place was created wholly for imperial sojourns, and included only 
a very small town outside the walls of the palace enclosure, its situation 
was far enough north to make it a natural place of assembly, annually, 
both for the nomadic Mongol nobles and their religious leaders. On 
the pretext of sport or worship, they could be summoned to visit an 
Emperor to whom they owed an uneasy allegiance. Here they could 
incidentally be surveyed and in part controlled. 

Ch'ien Lung seems to have used these visits to impress upon the 
border princelings a crushing sense of his own grandeur. The archi- 
tecture itself reflects this. One great building, among a succession of 
splendid structures set in a valley beyond his hunting park, was no 
less than a reproduction of the Potala itself, in Lhassa. Here, within 
the space made by four surrounding curtain walls, was hidden a 
majestic temple, free-standing in the open and roofed literally with 
gilded tiles. 

My first sight of this marvel was after a long climb up a spacious 
stairway of honor, tunneled between enclosing walls, and finally from 
the vantage point of a lofty corner pavilion rising asymmetrically above 
the roofs. Looking off from this fine height one saw the bare wrinkled 
hills; and that day shadows cast by the luminous clouds were roving 
constantly over them. Below was this noble building, completely 
concealed from the world as if the better to guard its preciousness. 
Its curving golden roof shone dazzlingly under the bright sky, regally 
covering a hidden shrine. 

The air in this region was keen upland air; the country barren and 
empty except where the imperial will had arbitrarily summoned into 
being some glazed and glittering temple on an otherwise completely 
waste site. Here the land of China, peopled with docile timid farmers, 
had already yielded to something freer and bolder. Although neither 
the infrequent inhabitants, nor the poor priests whom one saw in one 



Summer Palaces 213 

deserted court after another in this valley of temples, seemed formi- 
dable, one was already in a borderland. The breeze that blew was a 
northern breeze, the waters and waving grasses moved under other 
skies. For a Westerner this was exhilaration, a release from the down- 
ward drag of too much culture, too much civilization. 

Jehol thus reflected earlier customs at a distance, in a rich but quite 
artificial late variant. Ch'ien Lung seems here only to have maintained 
a gorgeous shell. The very proportioning of the excessively rich temple 
architecture, high and unsteady, lacked conviction; everything was 
for splendid show only. 

Nowhere in North China, though, more clearly than in these 
deserted palaces and temples, arbitrarily set in a wilderness, could 
one sense why China had long felt herself to be at the center of the 
civilized world. By contrast, all about was wild and empty country. 
Here, where literally the desert met the town, one could also under- 
stand how when the inhabitants of High Tartary came down to 
mingle with such enfeebled and luxury-loving latecomers, there could 
only have been sentiments of mutual contempt. For the nomads 
despised the too elegant rulers of a people who never moved for a 
whole lifetime from the soil they tilled agriculture for them was a 
poor-spirited, dishonorable, occupation while the Chinese looking 
out from their imported palaces and gardens, artificially planted in 
this waste, must have regarded these descendants of former conquerors 
as roving outsiders, once powerful but fortunately no longer to be 
held in awe, ignorant of every amenity of life as they knew it for 
the rest of the year, back in the capital, in Peking. 



CHAPTER xin The Hills and Temples 



T)EKING, in Chinese minds, is a northern city. Its climate may not 
A be so severe as Mukden, which is for them the remote stronghold 
from which Manchu conquerors descended, some three hundred years 
ago, to rule a fertile empire to the south. Manchuria is the Scotland 
of China. Yet to those millions of Central Chinese, of smaller bones 
and slighter stature, who come from cities such as Soochow, with its 
reputation for learning and elegance, or from Hangchow beside its 
marvelous lake, and to all the further millions of delicate Southerners, 
who need their native rice and cannot eat wteaten cakes, Peking 
represents the North, 

The Westerner generally welcomes the familiar extremes of climate 
in North China, the blustery winter and the hot summer. Here men 
are taller, and many of them have rosy complexions. Their manners 
are franker, their actions more forthright. The women, too, seem 
larger in stature and in character also. There can be something in their 
warm welcome to a guest, or in their mirthf ul comment on lie course 
of life generally, that not only impresses one as Northern, but is even 
reminiscent amusingly enough at times of Ireland. I have seen many 
North Chinese women who would make wonderful "biddies"! 

These are all true children of their soil; they cannot bear to emigrate. 
So 3 in the West, we have formed our general impression of a "China- 
man" (a term, by the way, for some reason near to opprobrium in the 
ears of educated Chinese) largely from Cantonese or from other 

214 



The Hills and Temfks 215 

Southerners, who are as little like North Chinese as are let us say 
citizens of Seville like those of Edinburgh. 

What is true of the people is also true of the land. It is broad open 
country, swept by every wind of heaven, under a boundless sky, it$ 
blue often so pure as to be truly celestial; but also occasionally streaked 
with dust storms that completely obscure the sun, tearing dragonlike 
toward the walls of the capital from the deserts of Central Asia. Man 
fits well into this land. Blue-clothed figures are ever at work in the 
fields, the unbroken succession of the simple crops harmonizes with 
the cycle of the year; and agrarian China, leviathan, deeply good, 
touchingly simple, is indeed the true China. 

The broad stretches of good North Chinese earth are only part of 
the charm of the Peking plain. Beyond it, visible from the top 
of the city wall, and even from vantage points within it, are the 
familiar Western HiUs. They are molded like the hills in Chinese 
paintings, purple as thistles or the vivid color of bluebells in the shift- 
ing light. Although to the countryfolk who inhabit them they must 
seem only poor land from which wresting a living demands even more 
toil than on the plain below, to the sophisticated inhabitant of the 
capital, Chinese or Western, this region promises all the delights of 
picturesque nature, withdrawal, and repose near at hand. In truth 
some of the temples there, veritable citadels enlarged through the 
centuries, grant even better than this; and finally make their Buddhist 
gift of perfect and utter tranquillity. 

The most familiar of these nearby refuges is Chieh T'ai Ssu, the 
Temple of the Ordination Platform, so-called because it includes one 
housed in a separate building, used for the elaborate ceremonies held 
when neophytes are admitted to the priesthood. Chieh T'ai Ssu seems 
a far journey across the sun-baked summer plain from Peking, for 
it is set broadly halfway up a long and gradual slope, across a small 
river flowing through sandy soil, in a region almost deserted. It is, 
however, only several hours away, these days, if one travels first by 
motor car and then by donkey. It lies apart in the hills, a majestic 
retreat for the spirit 

The morning of my first visit to spend a few days there, the 



2l6 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

stimulation of the site was so powerful that I was up and wandering 
about with the dawn. What was my surprise when having turned 
hastily down a path or two, I suddenly found myself on a hillock, 
looking off toward the rising sun still low in an aquamarine mist 
through which precisely as if it were a picture finely painted far 
away could be seen the feudal walls of Peking itself, rising erect from 
the smoky plain! 

Once one's bedding' roll had been settled in a guest court, pacing 
the long terraces of Chieh T'ai Ssu was not unlike touring the decks 
of some large, if stationary, liner, a motionless hull upon which one 
was temporarily permitted a journey through the ineffable calms of 
Buddhist time and space. All but the most callous Westerner felt' this. 
Conversation would always become gentler during the long shaded 
afternoons as we sat together in reclining chairs; the ladies in our 
party would invariably make the points of their conversation better; 
and we were readier to accept them. Life, completely suspended, took 
on passionate interest in no matter what aspect of it we felt at the 
moment absorbed. 

The sight of this temple was a wonderful old tree, the "nine dragon 
white pine," so-called because of the shape of its trunk. It was a giant 
of great girth, with slanting limbs spread so broadly at the edge of a 
high terrace that one or two quite overhung it, stretching out hori- 
zontally beyond the balustrading. The scales of its shaded bark 
turned in the rain from dazzling white to palest gray-green or mauve; 
its clean pine needles were glossy and long. There was a sense that its 
tree nature had been intimately understood by the monks who now 
had cherished and protected it through centuries. An impression of its 
slow power as it had thrust upward the girth of its spreading trunk, 
or run its bulging roots for long distances under the tumbled brick- 
work of the uneven paving this must remain with thousands who 
have come to see it. 

At times, in summer, a sudden shower might send us scurrying 
to the rooms we occupied on this or that level, with different views 
across the plain. The rooms were usually in a litter, sponge-bags and 
miscellaneous gear scattered about as on a camping trip. We might 
then sit and talk on our cots. Or we would go off to take long deeply 



The Hills and Temples 217 

refreshing naps; to awaken with an almost numbed sense of complete 
removal from the problems that even recently had been preoccupying 
us in the world below. 

The black-robed monks knew how all this felt, of course; they 
knew much better, and with much greater clarity than we, the causes 
and effects. I remember well the first time that I was allowed to 
glance into one of their Halls of Meditation, a cavernous building 
included in many temples of this size. One is politely asked not to 
go in: glazed porcelain placards, set low on wooden stands beside 
the door, request those at leisure to "avoid entering." Yet the pre- 
scription was waived for me on one occasion, and I found myself 
within a deep and shadowy empty hall, its walls compartmented and 
separated by partitions making each recess a broad shallow niche. 
Upon low platforms filling these were placed felt mats. Here one 
could install oneself, almost unaware of others and set apart from 
them; here one might sit cross-legged which for the Chinese puts 
the body at peace to meditate free of interruption for as long as 
necessity or desire might suggest. The urge to do so, the promise 
that here one could at last face every intimate problem, every internal 
reality, and wrest from them finally a solution and peace, this urge 
has never left me since. In those sanctified shadows many and many a 
Chinese soul must have found an issue to some of the riddles of life. 

A litde of this peace of withdrawal was always about us in the 
courts reserved for our use in Chieh T'ai Ssii. To those who have not 
done these things, elaborate week-end parties in temples may perplex 
the imagination, their worldly pleasures threatening impiety; but in 
reality the proceeding is altogether simple. Only part of a large 
temple is devoted exclusively to religious services; and except for the 
abbot's and monks' own quarters, there are no pkces where one can- 
not wander freely. Even to these more private courts, if one knows 
the custom of the country, one is usually in the course of time invited. 
The halls of worship are nearly always open. 

There are no strained religious prohibitions; one is quite free to 
come and go during the services; and there are no peremptory rules. 
The kindly monks do prefer it if one does not bring animal food to 
eat within the enclosure, since to take life is to them a sin. If one has 



2l8 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

become a friend, however, in return for this one request they may 
offer veritable banquets of their own preparing, with mock meats 
and game so marvelously contrived even to simulated laquered duck 
skin that one is left with the sense of taste bewildered. 

To live in a temple one need not even know the abbot; he can 
be, and often is, much occupied, a learned and somewhat aloof per- 
sonage. The Kuan-chia-ti, however, the Administrator of the House- 
hold, is the best man with whom to make arrangements, avoiding 
intermediary servants if one speaks the language. The courtyards in 
a large establishment are many and varied; with tact one usually se- 
cures what one wishes* Upon leaving, it is simply sensed what present 
to the monastery would be fitting for the hospitality received, besides 
money to the temple cook and other servants, for hot water and 
similar necessaries, and other small fees for errands and messages. 

A preliminary gift of good tea to the Kuan-chia-ti upon a first and 
formal call, is the best introduction of all. Everything consists in 
proportioning, and also in proper timing; and if the heart is in it, and 
kindliness too, all cannot but go well. So many generations have come 
and gone, in these places, so many have been grateful and donated 
one gift or another (perhaps even to the building of a new courtyard), 
that somewhere there is generally the very spot, perhaps with a quiet 
window and a maplike view of the world below, that one feels pre- 
destined for one's own use. 

I remember one small building set apart, in a quiet temple on 
P'an Shan, a half-deserted mountain to the east of the capital, that 
was all this, and more, to me. It was named the Tower of the Sleep- 
ing Clouds, and on its broad 1(mg platform I could lie comfortably 
by the hour, never tiring there of reflecting and planning. For in that 
place all thought seemed to come to me, in solitude, with justness and 
truth. 

In Chieh T'ai Ssu the best accommodation had been given over for 
many years to Prince Kung, who had been in charge of the government 
at various times during the reign of the last Empress Dowager. Here 
he had retired, when no longer in favor, to occupy himself with literary 
pursuits. Here were his private courts, rich with silken peonies in the 
spring. His portrait, showing him in a simple gown, a Chinese gentle- 



The Hills and Temples 219 

man seated among rocks in a typical Chinese landscape, still hung 
in the central chamber of his former suite of rooms. 

Tan Che Ssu, the second of the two great temples in this region, 
I came in time to know even better. Its Chinese name signified 
vaguely that it was a temple near pools and scrub oak, both of which 
did exist; but it could also be approached through a steep tree-filled 
ravine, almost a small forest, which in those comparatively bare hills 
was a rarity. The way to its main entrance, up from the plain, was 
like the approach to a medieval castle; but there was exceptionally 
also a small postern gate opening toward the mountain side. 

In its courts grew soaring ginkgo trees. On clear autumn days, their 
yellow-green foliage towering unbelievably high in the crystal air, 
these were the trees of a Buddhist fairyland. Their huge trunks seemed 
grown for immortals, not for the little creatures who stepped this way 
and that the better to look at them. The ginkgo, of course, is not 
only one of the oldest trees in the world, but also one of the most 
slow-growing. Among other names the Chinese call it the "grandfather- 
grandson tree"; for if it is planted by the former, the latter will be the 
first to enjoy it. 

In T'an Che Ssu I finally became so familiarly known that I could 
arrive whenever I wished, with only the scantiest of personal belong- 
ings. Even the temple bedding, including quilts of excellent wadded 
silk, the pious donation of some wealthy Chinese, was put at my 
disposal. Foreigners, it should be said, invariably brought their own 
sheets and blankets; and not liking the hard native %'ang> unfolded 
Western cots and pulled out feather pillows. My simpler methods 
brought other rewards. In this temple I was often asked into the 
mammoth kitchen in any land a mark of favor to taste delicacies 
that the monks might slowly be preparing somewhere in its spacious 
recesses for anticipated guests of the abbot. I also spent long hours 
in the private rooms of the Kuan-cAifrti, where we used to enjoy con- 
versation with much tea. 

This temple had walls and terraces like feudal bastions. It must once 
have accommodated hosts of pilgrims. The cauldrons to cook for them, 
still in place from the old days, were so large that the gruel had been 



220 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

stirred from trestles with veritable oars. I had there, whenever I 
could, a distant courtyard to myself, on a narrow terrace of almost 
dizzy height It was ideally secluded, wonderfully quiet, and in it 
grew four tall pine trees, perfectly straight and completely symmetri- 
cal. Through my sleep, I could hear their branches soughing softly 
in the night wind; and if I came at midnight to my door, to sense in 
the darkness their perfect arrangement, the stars above them sparkled 
as if they were ornaments on a Christmas tree. 

A withered old priest seemed to have charge of this single court 
as his only duty. Here he ate his gruel from a cracked bowl, with a 
few pickled vegetables. He silently swept the ground under the four 
great trees with a besom such as might have come from a fairy tale, 
never making more of the task than necessary, as if unwilling to add 
any action further to a life now completed, except for a little dim con- 
templation, before it would flicker away. He dwelt in a small watch- 
man's cubicle somewhere near the double red doors, that barred the 
entrance. 

It was curious to find how far apart one could grow from fellow 
Westerners when one looked down upon them from such a fastness. 
I remember one spring evening being sought out by the Kuan-chia-ti. 
By this time he had long ago told me all about how he had made his 
decision to become a monk as a lonely widower, and had shown me 
photographs of his only daughter, now married and far away in 
Shanghai. We were fast friends. 

"A large party of foreigners has just arrived below," he said. "Should 
we not together go to greet them?" 

We went quietly, he leading me literally by the hand so great 
was his simplicity and irrupted upon a chattering group from 
my own embassy. Its members, well-known to me, immediately and 
completely misinterpreted the scene. They had come here, with cock- 
tails and crested china, napkins and ice, all the appurtenances of a 
traditional legation picnic; and white-robed servants were even at that 
moment laying a feast in a handsome yellow-tiled open pavilion, heavy 
with trailing festoons of lavender wisteria. It was a brilliant little 
picture, yet strikingly irrelevant. 

Soon my monk and I drifted away. There was nothing at the 



The Hills and Temples 221 

moment to hold me; and the temple was quite large enough for 
me to think only intermittently of my foreign friends that evening, 
as I supped far away on another terrace, nearer the kitchen, in rich 
evening light. This was a place fragrant with rare la-mi hua, a small 
flower with delicate and translucent waxen bells, at that season in 
perfect bloom. I was being nourished with Buddhist food, in more 
senses than one. Finally I went up to my high courtyard of the four 
great trees, the doors were bolted, and slumber came early and was 
sweet. 

Several hours later, I became conscious of a strange combination of 
sounds: a solemn mass was being intoned by many voices, with the 
rich dissonances, so difficult to describe, that make the effect of Bud- 
dhist chanting. It must have been droning on for some time. Inter- 
mingled with it, although from another quarter, came a roistering 
and lusty, very lusty, Pilgrims' Chorus, from Tannhduser. I turned 
over and went to sleep again. 

My slumber was not to last for the rest of the night. After an 
interval, I became aware that my compatriots from the embassy were 
indulging in a prolonged celebration. Perhaps the voices were fewer, 
though by this time they were buoyant and happy, familiarly invok- 
ing Daisy, to give them her "promise true," all quite delighted at the 
mere thought of a bicycle built for two. The unremitting Buddhist 
clappers were still pounding away, the incantation, a little more rapid, 
going on endlessly. The priests, too, were apparently quite content* 
Surely the two worlds were not destined to meet that evening. 

It must have been hours later that I roused myself to consciousness 
for a last time. Even the priests by now were mute; and the night 
must have been far spent. Yet the singers were still vocal. This time 
from another direction, they were informing each other, although ir- 
regularly, that when life in temples should be past, they wished merely 
to have their bones pickled in "al-co-hol." I preferred my own court- 
yard. 

There were other Buddhist temples, many of them, all about this 
region. I had two favorites, Wo Fo Ssu or the Temple of the Sleeping 
Buddha, beyond the Jade Fountain; and, more distant to be reached 



222 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

by a steep highland walk over the bare hills Ta Chiieh Ssu or the 
Temple of the Great Consciousness. 

Wo Fo Ssu was a familiar enough place. The Chinese YMCA had 
sometime before taken part of it over from the monks, who now 
were obviously too few to fill it; and there they had opened a hostel 
that did have the advantage of prepared, if simple, Chinese food. As 
a temple. Wo Fo Ssu thus suffered occasionally from spells of student 
popularity, when it milled with activity. Yet there were other times 
when one could enjoy it quite undisturbed. 

There was one broad court near the entrance, imaginatively named 
that of the Sky-Clearing Moon, where iron bedsteads could be dragged 
from the empty rooms and set up under the porches of the side-houses. 
Here one could sleep out-of-doors in summer, under crazily strung- 
up mosquito nets, below the monarch-like spreading trees which rose 
high above the roofs. 

There was a charming eyrie, high and remote, at the back of the 
whole enclosure. It had yellow-glazed tiles on its double roof so that 
it had been an imperial gift and was known as the Tower of Kuan 
Yin, who is, of course, die Goddess of Mercy. Up steep twin flights 
of steps made of uncut rock, here one could sleep either indoors or 
out. This was a fine place in which to install oneself perhaps late in 
the autumn, or else in the chilly days of the new spring; for there 
was a small iron stove in its single papered room, on which water 
could be heated night and morning, so that one could wash or shave in 
comfort. 

Missionary friends had another large and quite separate section, 
which once had been an elaborate traveling palace used by the Em- 
peror Ch'ien Lung. Here as everywhere he had set his obvious stamp; 
the architecture loudly proclaimed the man. There were several spacious 
courts, all embellished with highly carved woodwork, although the 
main building having burnt down accidentally was now lacking. 
Grass had also been planted to make a most un-Chinese lawn in front 
of its faoJang or entrance passageway; and this had further been 
walled in and pierced with Western windows. It made a cozy but 
not beautiful guest house. 

By the kindness of its host, a genial retired missionary, I used to 



The Hills and Temples 223 

have for my own here, however, a marvelous rickety nest across the 
lawn, halfway up in a great tree, made of unsteady flooring and roofed 
with very worn matting. This overhung the temple's outer wall, so 
that one looked directly down onto wheat fields and the public road 
below. It was a remarkably cheerful corner. Here I could perch 
with a large bed, a wobbly wash-hand-stand, and even a writing table 
between a number of worlds, which only could have come together 
in such a place. 

From time to time, there came here such figures as the grave old 
Swedish missionary, tall and very lean Mr. Soderbom, whose Sunday 
prayers had a particularly gentle and old-world quality. We used to 
sit about on the grass lawn to remind us of "home" conscious of our 
clean clothes, to hear there prayers and then to sing hymns, in lieu o 
church services on the sabbath. 

One bright calm Sunday, after a while I drifted away from the 
hymn-singing; and wandering to the Chinese part of the temple, 
out of curiosity I poked my head into the monks' dark brick-floored 
kitchen. I found the cook also in beatific mood outdoors the weather 
was magnificent. He, too, was resting from his ordinary labors, only 
reclining at his ease, smoking a pipe of opium. Outside the hymns 
soared onward: "I know not, oh! I know not, what joys await me ' 
there. ..." I could not tell the missionaries where I had been. 

The Temple of the Great Consciousness was reached after a more ! 
enterprising journey, over the high bald hills. The shade of its fine : 
evergreens was consequently the more grateful; and there was a ! 
limpid silvery pool behind die main halls into which we invariably ; 
dipped our handkerchiefs in warm weather, to cool our faces after | 
the long walk. Here, backed by a small house all latticework, now j 
faded to dull red, the gray rocks and trees, and a single lichen-covered ; 
stupa the grave of some old abbot made a setting of absolute peace. | 
The air was pure with the scent of pines. 

At the front gate there were nearly always a few gossiping eiumchs, j 
leaning on their staffs; for they owned a farm property of some sort ; 
not far away, in which to spend their last years. They would hobble ; 
over to Ta Chiieh Ssu to taste a little of the world on the warm quiet | 



224 THE YEARS THAT 

afternoons when one could almost hear the wheat ripening, growing 
taller and blonder hourly in the neighboring fields. Many rural scenes 
like this, with only slight change, might well have been set in the rich 
and nourishing countryside of provincial France. 

If we were living at Wo Fo Ssu, we could never tarry too long at 
this place, for it was considered unsafe to be out on the heights, in 
back country, after dark. Once when we were overtaken by inky night- 
fall, and went on, stumbling horribly along stony pathways, with no 
habitation to guide us for miles, we reached Wo Fo Ssu to find our- 
selves being urgently searched for, with lanterns on the roads, everyone 
unquiet at our late return. We were given supper though; and there 
had been no bandits, not at least that night. 

In the course of time I acquired another friend, one of the priests 
in Ta Chueh Ssu, who invited me to spend winter days there. Then 
I used to go round by the highway, a circuitous journey, to reach the 
temple by bicycle. This friendly priest treated me spontaneously almost 
as a lay brother, insisting upon my sharing the large J(ang in his inner 
room. The first night I went to sleep with the not quite comfortable 
feeling that I might almost thus be qualifying to become a novice. 
My good priest, however, had only taken my complete acceptance of 
his own way of life for granted; he had in simplicity offered me what 
he had. 

The next morning, after his private prayers, for which he beat time 
with a small mallet upon his own "wooden fish," and while I was 
still shaving in leisurely fashion, I became aware of something of un- 
usual interest. He had begun to practice calligraphy. His hand was 
known to be good; it was he who wrote the yellow paper inscriptions, 
either in large single characters or else in pairs of symmetrically planned 
sentences, pasted on every door or door-frame for the New Year. He 
was attacking this task intently, little by little gaining speed, for all 
the world like a fancy skater perfecting his form. Ever faster sped his 
brush, his energies concentrating themselves to wrest from flying 
movement, at the right instant, that ultimate imprint which is a good 
Chinese character. 

Finally his whole being had been channeled into the poised tip of his 



The Hills and Temples 225 

well-inked brush. Then, but not until then, did he trace on good paper 
the characters already chosen. He who has not seen a serious caUigra- 
pher at such a task does not know what stores of intent energy can 
passionately be released and transferred to fragile paper. Nothing is 
of more value in Chinese eyes than just such a sheet; providing of 
course that the spirit behind it has been so eloquent, and so able to 
express itself, that the result can pass muster with the connoisseurs. 

There were other more vaguely Buddhist places to go in the Peking 
plain and the nearby hills. The religious side never obtruded, the priests 
somehow in charge never pestered one for money, the services were 
most irregular; and there was always a feeling that the casual visitor 
was welcome. The underlying humanity was unfailing. 

One of my favorites in this vaguer category was the Black Dragon 
Pool. At a place where isolated hills were already beginning to crop 
out of the western rim of the Peking plain, there was one, not particu- 
larly high, with unpretentious temple buildings covering only part of 
it, that long had been remarkable for a spring of very clear water. 
Here had been made an irregular pool that we used for swimming. It 
was enclosed by a high raised walk bounded by stretches of curving 
wall, which was irregularly pierced with small windows of fanciful 
shape, no two alike. Through them one could look out as from a raised 
gallery upon the farms and fields below. At each few windows the 
view would be quite different. Within, the color of the pool, refracted 
through the clear water, was a vivid glassy light blue-green. 

The glory of this place in the spring was the oldest, die largest, and 
the most writhing wisteria vine that I had ever beheld. A stout frame- 
work, so extended as to cover part of the pool, supported it; and when 
the flowers were in bloom, and the air alive with the urgent sound 
of bees, one might swim below this trellis as lavender blossoms dropped 
onto the green water. China gave, neither measuring nor caring, so 
many pleasures like these! 

One missionary friend for many years had rented her own court- 
yard, high in another craggy part of the hills, in what was known as 
the Monastery of the Golden Immortal. Here the well-built halls were 
unusually lofty. (I have heard since that all this is now gone, bombed 



226 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

in the war.) In her part o the temple were tile-bordered beds of 
magnolia trees, and there was always one short season in the spring 
when the place achieved perfection. Then we would go there, tended 
only by her dignified old manservant, appropriately named Autumn 
Orchard; and at the end of day we often sat out in the late sharp 
mountain light, watching the petals drip one by one, like some magic 
of white blood. A sense of the brevity of existence, and the keenness 
of its beauty, would almost overwhelm us, waiting in the quiet hills 
for the oncoming of the night. Later as we sat reading silently within, 
by the light of. a kerosene lamp, it would be as after a Nunc Dirnittis. 

From this place there was a most tempting walk, very uneven, 
skirting round the prongs o the mountains as they descended to the 
plain below, and then inward past walled houses in the recesses of 
the hills, houses so still, under their trees, that they seemed deserted. 
This led finally to a quite magnificent group of buildings, the Tomb 
of the Seventh Prince. The grave itself, in a lovely upland grove, I 
remember only as usually dappled with sunlight; and all was so im- 
personal and quiet there that death itself seemed robbed of regret. 

Our curiosity was not about it, though, but with the arrangements 
made there for the living a set of still half-furnished chambers used 
by an intriguing son of this Seventh Prince, we were told, when he 
fell dangerously out of favor at court At this stage of his fortunes he 
had decided to disappear from the scene, and departed to "guard the 
tomb of his parents" as the phrase went in other words to save his 
skin. In pairs of antithetical couplets on wooden tablets suspended to 
the columns of his porches or to his door-frames, he ostentatiously an- 
nounced to the world how little interest he now had concerning it. His 
"head was in the clouds alone" he stated; or his "feet trod only moun- 
tain ways." 

Yet we could never quite believe this, because of one strange house 
in the garden that he had ordered built most unusually in such a 
place beyond the residence courtyards. This small building was care- 
fully isolated, even hidden within a large basin of elaborate rockery; 
and there were elevated vantage points upon it, pinnacles from which 
the approach of any visitor could be spied from quite a distance. Then, 
even if one succeeded in entering the little house, the very sliding 



The Hills and Temples 227 

door that one had pushed back to get in, by a curious trick closed 
off a further entrance down a short corridor and round a turn, until 
one had slid it back again and thus shut oneself in! What could have 
been its use? 

At the Tomb of the Seventh Prince there was also a children's garden, 
unique to my knowledge. It was only a little place, conveniently near 
the main buildings; and there really was not much to see. Yet all the 
garden furniture, the little stone tables, the little benches, the seats 
and stools, were uniformly of miniature size, arranged with great dig- 
nity. This was another facet to the puzzling character of the Seventh 
Prince's son. 

We wandered often, these years, among Buddhist temples and 
tombs; and I do not think that there can be much question that most 
religious building in China is Buddhist. There are, however, two other 
quite equally accepted faiths, Taoism and Confucianism. Many 
Chinese, further, have no difficulty in participating vaguely in all 
three. Each is good, they will tell you, and each appeals to a different 
side of our human nature. My Elder Born once exhorted me, when 
I was passing through a period of enthusiasm for the technique o 
Buddhist controlled meditation, not to "use up Buddhism." This was 
a religion, he said, for old age, and for peace. It was most valuable for 
the time when disenchantment with the world would naturally arrive. 
"Why not save such special studies, then, for when they will be more 
useful?" 

Taoism is resurgently popular, generation after generation, because 
it appeals, I think, to a streak of nihilism present in average human 
nature. Its upper reaches have about them a subtle quality of almost 
mocking skepticism; they contrive paradox after paradox to put to 
shame the unthinking. As an everyday faith, however, it has taken 
on much grosser forms; and the popular version of the present quite 
degenerated creed is so riddled with superstition that the ordinary 
wandering Taoist priests have become not unlike the gypsies of Chinese 
society. 

Historically, though, Taoism was once a very different system, show- 
ing man the futility of a great part of his planning, and the uselessness 



228 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

of almost all his action; nursing him finally to freedom through cosmic 
humor in the contemplation o human vicissitude and its basic ab- 
surdities. In return for illusions cast away, it promised him the next 
best thing to immortality attainable in this world, absolute well-being, 
provided only he exercised and dieted carefully, and kept himself 
not only physically clean but also mentally unworried. Amateur 
Taoists, even today, are living examples of what such a regime can do 
to the human frame. Indeed, they age remarkably, with a fire to their 
glance that proves how much this system has done for them. It is all 
very appealing; one can only regret that much of the high style is 
now so far lost in the past. 

One often sees Taoist priests wandering about in town or coun- 
try, bearded and with their long hair caught up in topknots through 
curious hollow-ringed hats, dressed in coats of many patches of black 
and blue, often in tatters. They have an air of forever passing freely 
through this world rather than of being enmeshed in it; and to the 
best of them this gives a striking appearance of liberty. These are dig- 
.nified men, with a wonderful glowing expression; and in their old 
age they are, as Walt Whitman might have described them, truly 
"large, expanded, free." 

As an organized religion, however, Taoism is definitely poorer than 
Buddhism. It draws fewer of the rich donating faithful, perhaps 
because it offers less opportunity to join in conventional religious ob- 
servances. The very imaginativeness of its highest flights must have 
worked against it with any established order. Yet its followers are not 
few; and outside Peking, a short distance from the west wall, there 
was one large and handsome, generously built and well-maintained 
establishment, Po Yiin Kuan, the Taoist Monastery of the White 
Clouds, which represented this faith at its contemporary best. 

Even the Chinese name for Taoist foundations is unlike that for 
similar Buddhist ones. They are called not "temples" but "palaces." 
At Po Yiin Kuan the abbot and priests were men of urbanity, 
moving at ease with the great of the land.' The reception rooms were 
almost regal in scale and arrangement, the ceremonial invariably 
dignified, and when occasion required it, splendid. In one of the side- 



The Hills and Temples 229 

buildings, upstairs, there was perhaps the largest and best-maintained 
Taoist library in China. 

At Po Yiin Kuan interest centered on the great holiday fair held 
in the opening days of the Chinese New Year. Then visitors arrived 
by hundreds, in fresh cotton clothing, young men with old-fashioned 
garters tying in their wadded trousers at the ankles, young girls with 
neat knots of sleek black hair, and perhaps a bang in front. They 
came in droves, making family parties; by cart, by ricksha, by bicycle. 
Or within the city, they walked to a gate in the wall, and made the 
last stretch on careening minuscule donkeys. Everywhere was the 
merriment of a holiday of the touchingly simple. It has surely antedated 
and will no doubt postdate the perennial "crises" of our times. 

At the fair there were sweetmeats, toys, games of ring-toss with 
the cheapest of prizes, but very popular and also a kind of wishing 
well, where one tried to hit a target in a pit under a bridge, with cop- 
per coins. There was also fortune-telling, at this beginning of a New 
Year, which was taken quite seriously. 

During the holiday time there were also flat silk lanterns in great 
numbers, painted with scenes from familiar historical romances, set 
out upon the rear wall of one of the main buildings. This place would 
be thronged even when they were unlit, during the day. The painting 
was not superior, although painstakingly done; yet to offer a Chinese 
the chance to see anything novel is always to invite the mob. Simple 
onlooking, in a land where illiteracy is great, is the prime form of 
education. The good humor of the spectacle, however, the spectators 
add of themselves. 

In the open fields behind an elaborate rear garden, Mongol horse 
races were also held from time to time during the fair; although these 
were more accurately horse pacings, to exhibit the animals, without 
any proper starting post or finish lines as we know them. Nobody 
seemed to care very much about that phase; it was very puzzling. Yet 
crowds went to see the intermittent riding, and to deliver judgments 
upon it. 

The chief curiosity of the Monastery of the White Clouds, how- 
ever, was the collection of very ancient men, all alive, in a smaller 
side-building, to be seen upon payment of a few extra coppers. Here 



230 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the good-natured mob milled, crushing into the little rooms, and 
gaped. The cross-legged veterans, on a long warmed f(ang, were in- 
deed old, thoroughly battered by time. It was stated that they spent 
nearly all their existence in controlled meditation and withdrawal, 
for such a regime was said to prolong life. At any rate they usually 
did seem quite comatose; but the crowd marveled and was in no 
hurry to pass on. 

In a land where death comes early, and where for most of the popu- 
lation there is less possibility of survival into advanced old age than 
for us, these men filled imaginations more excitingly. It was not only 
respect for those who had weathered the longest storms; it was also 
curiosity to see what happened physically after, let us say, nearly one 
hundred years. If there were secrets beyond what met the eye, how- 
ever, the blinking or shut-lidded ones never revealed them. Such a 
mass exhibit of advanced senility was not pleasant to contemplate. It 
was not here that one saw the best of Taoism. 

Of the third of the three great religious systems of China, Con- 
fucianism, I have already given a few details. It is, as we have seen, 
quite different from the other two much more so indeed than they 
are from each other. Perhaps it would be more accurate not even to 
call it a religion, for it is actually inimical to faith or fervor, and oc- 
cupies itself with ethics and morals, from which one can proceed di- 
rectly to the practical ends of good government. Proper Confucianists 
regard themselves as superior beings; and those who do not hold with 
them find their customary attitudes rather sanctimonious. Yet the good 
Confucianist, basing himself on reason and logic, and attempting to 
keep himself free of all unworthy emotion, abides too by his own stand- 
ards. At his door there is often posted a sign reading NO AFFINITY WITH 
BUDDHIST OR TAoisT PRIESTS. Keep'away! Here dwells a man who will 
think rather than feel his way through the world. 

During the years that I was under the tutelage of Mr. Wang I 
learned much of this temper. His father had been high in the old 
hierarchy, having attained the second of the nine official ranks. The 
son had been given a thoroughly Confucian upbringing. With memories 
of better days behind, he knew that although teachers such as he might 



The Hills and Temples 231 

be granted a modicum of respect, conditions o life were meager indeed. 
Only when I once visited him in his cramped and shabby dwelling, 
during an illness, did I fully realize what fortitude and endurance lay 
behind his carefully emotionless behavior and unvarying correct- 
ness. 

One day in earnest conversation he revealed to me some of these 
springs of action. Life might be hard, very hard; it was so indeed for 
him. Yet if one conducted oneself always according to the most supe- 
rior standards, whatever happened was in its purity "like the season 
of spring." He flushed a little as he said this, repeating the phrase 
"like the season of spring"; and then tried to make me understand 
the clarity of utter peace of mind, the moral fragrance of good and 
wise conduct. We were both not a little moved; for it is a brave thing 
for any man, knowing his weakness, to stand firm for his principles 
against a stupid and brutal world. 

Yet there was somehow always less to see, or do, in a Confucian 
temple than at the Buddhists or Taoists. It was usually a gravely quiet 
and empty building. The plain wooden tablet of the Completed One 
himselfeven in daily conversation Confucius is never referred to by 
name, but obliquely mentioned as "a certain man" and also the 
minor tablets of his chief disciples invariably placed in such halls, 
avoided all imputation of image worship. They were merely inscribed 
red-painted, upright slabs, each in the center of a large crimson-and- 
gilt stall. In front were usually broad and empty sacrificial tables. 

Once a year, though, in the great Confucian temple north of the 
Tartar City in Peking, there was an official ceremony of consequence. 
This was on the anniversary of the sage's birthday, with the mayor 
and various ancient dignitaries present, all in their short and formal 
black "horse jackets," over dark long clothing. The dress of the offi- 
ciants was consciously archaic. Curious instruments were played, so 
old that even their use had been almost wholly forgotten; although 
Confucius himself had stated that with proper music one could rule 
the state. Young boys were the acolytes. I once asked Mr. Wang why 
this was so. "Because at that age they are the cleanest of all living 
creatures," he replied. Confucianism, took no chances. 

Even die Kuo Tzii Chien or Hall for Imperial Instruction, attached 



232 THE YEARS THAT WERE BAT 

to this temple, had a meliorative and reforming air. The building it- 
self, large, high and square, but quite unadorned, was set in the center 
of a circular moat. Four bridges crossed this to four broad doors, one 
on each side. Traditionally the Emperor sat upon his raised throne, 
within, to hear the wise men of the empire, standing before him, ex- 
pound to him the laws of conscience and his duties. 

These were founded upon the Classics, which were the repository 
of Confucius' wisdom, and thus formed Sacred Books. To make them 
accessible to all men, nevertheless, a special arrangement had been 
made in this place. A covered cloister bounded the entire enclosure, 
and under its long galleries, protected from the weather, were erected 
hundreds of stone tablets, each carefully incised with a section of these, 
in the official script 

Now every Chinese knows how to take a "rubbing" of such stones. 
Dampened paper is first smoothed upon the surface, and a small moist 
pad filled with Chinese ink is then gently tapped with equal pres- 
sure over the whole of it. Since this blackens all but the incised parts 
(the characters themselves), when it is pulled off one has a true and 
perfect copy, only with white script on a black ground, all at the mere 
cost of thin paper, the ink, and the time required. These stones con- 
sequently placed the wisdom of the ancients within the reach of any 
who wished to come and seek it: again a moral purpose. 

A forecourt to the temple proper contained other rows of more richly 
carved marble tablets. Each was covered with successive lists, reign by 
reign over centuries, of those candidates who had successfully passed 
the highest official examinations. These were held in the capital only, 
every few years, and they alone opened the way to a political career; 
as if our M.A. and Ph.D. led directly to service in the state, with both 
prestige and a good salary as well. There were traditionally three liter- 
ary degrees. The lowest, corresponding to our bachelor's, was auspi- 
ciously named that of Budding Genius; the second made one a Raised 
Man; and the third expressed the final result of Formed Completeness. 

Many and many a story, still listened to eagerly by Chinese of all 
ages, concerns the family sacrifices, the prodigies of diligent study, and 
finally the vindicated ability of some determined candidate who went 
up to the Dragon Gate the examinations and succeeded in enter- 



The Hills and Temples 233 

ing it. Finally, if success crowned all, and the long-sought-or highest 
degree was his at last, the victor, dignified with the tide o Chuang 
Yuan, "Robust Perfect One" (a sound veritably enticing to Chinese 
ears), was granted the privilege of a state return to his native place, 
seated on a white horse, with all the accompanying regalia of his 
newly won honors. This was a dream that made young heads posi- 
tively giddy; and the names of those who had come to Peking, and 
obtained this degree, were duly inscribed row after row upon these 
old stones. Thus was the empire ruled traditionally; and these were 
the men finally given the responsibilities and honors of public life. 

Within the temple courts proper there were further towering stelae, 
the largest monoliths that I ever saw in China, erect on giant tortoises 
with raised heads. Each was housed within its own yellow-tiled 
pavilion; each had been presented by one of the emperors of the last 
dynasty. They honored the sage with gravely laudatory inscriptions, 
but they were so consciously imposing that I could not but feel they 
must have served chiefly to gratify the self-esteem of the donors. Con- 
fucius, however, was always to be given the best. Everywhere this 
seemed a basic principle; and in this sense China is a Confuciaa 
country. 

Inside the main hall of the temple proper I never found much of 
interest to hold me; so that eventually it was pleasant to come out into 
the sunlight again, idly to watch the cooing pigeons waddling about 
on the broad marble terrace. The very purity of Confucianism would 
perversely put me in good mood to enjoy a really elaborate mass, with 
great dissonant chantings and all the clappers going, in the next 
Buddhist temple that I might visit. 

On one occasion, however, I was able to come nearer to what must 
have been the wellspring of this creed, which so carefully avoided the 
emotional aspects of religion. The spiritual excitement of Confucian- 
ism, I had found, came generally at the moment of surmise that one 
had discovered a superb truth, which occurred unpredictably while 
reading passages in the Classics. Yet this was another phase. 

I was on a journey to climb Tai Shan, the great sacred mountain in 
Shantung. Upon descending to the plain, I found that by traveling 



234 THB WAS ' rHA - T 

on a local night train departing from the foot of the mountain, I 
might reach a certain small station before dawn, and from there hire 
a donkey and ride across the fields on that same morning to the 
ancient town of Ch'ii Fu, Confucius' birthplace, which was not on any 
railway. 

This I thereupon did, in the loveliest frail and changeable spring 
weather, the sky washed to seraphic clearness. As my donkey clipped 
across the neat fields, the attending boy tagging after, and we passed 
white-walled farmsteads with pleached fruit trees, generous manure 
heaps, and well-made pens for domestic animals, the agricultural 
probity of the region reminded me strikingly to my surprise of 
Normandy or Brittany. This is one of the charms of Shantung. 

The cross-country journey was made without event; and I put up 
my beast in a clean inn on the main street of the town, not far from 
the palace of the dukes of the family line. It should be said that this 
palace was more of a country seat intentionally planned for the use 
of some great family, more perhaps like some property belonging to 
a member of the old French aristocracy, than any other I ever saw in 
China. The buildings were sober and handsomely roofed, with a deep 
and broad court of honor in front of them. Here even bandits appar- 
ently paid respect; for otherwise it would have been considered unsafe 
without walls to have been publicly so majestic. 

Now titles of nobility were never fixed, forever, in the old China. 
This was considered unwise; so they were diminished by one degree 
with each succeeding generation until they came naturally to ex- 
tinguish themselves as had most often, by that time, also the native 
ability that had first established the line. The Chinese are 1 practical. 
Yet so great was the reverence for the one perfect and completed man, 
Confucius, that in this single case an exception was made. In each 
generation, the eldest of his family has remained a duke. In Ch'ii Fu, 
when I arrived, the young man who was the present incumbent had 
only recently made a properly successful marriage with a rich banker's 
daughter from Tientsin. They were living there in retirement; and the 
townsfolk spoke of them quite as if one were, amusingly enough, in 
Angouleme or Warwickshire. One exchanged news of "the Duke." 



The Hills and Temples 235 

Tranquil good manners, and a social sense like that familiar in the 
West, were everywhere obvious. 

I had proposed this to be a peaceful small journey; and I was indeed 
enchanted by what I found in the smiling temple courts. It was spring, 
and the air was unusually gentle there; slender lilacs were blooming 
from the moss blackened pavement even within the spacious en- 
closures to the main buildings, shaded by gray-green cypresses. A 
complete tranquillity brooded over all; yet it was a silence stimulating 
to the mind, charging it with humane reflection, a vibration more 
sensitively beautiful than anything Confucian I had known among the 
gaudy formalities of the capital. This was still another, a very tender 
and ancient, benevolent China. 

A thunderstorm that expanded suddenly to a cloudburst changed my 
plans. I had fortunately regained my pleasant inn before it broke. 
There in the covered front passage such was the local custom the 
fresh food for the day was neatly displayed in rows of bowls and 
dishes, only waiting to be selected and cooked. I also had a comfortable 
room. The cheerful donkey boy would wait. Everywhere the rain was 
streaming away, and indeed he could do nothing else. So the down- 
pour continued; and for a night and part of the next day I was 
shut up, given the society of grooms and ostlers for diversion, much 
talked to, constantly questioned and questioning, at ease and very 
well fed. 

Everyone in the town, I soon discovered, was apparently named 
K'ung Confucius* own surname. Never had there been such a flourish- 
ing family; in over twenty-four centuries it had ramified beyond belief. 
Yet pedigree never ceased to be important. It was carefully explained 
to me, as various people came in to pay visits, how my interlocutor 
of the moment might actually be older than the one of half an hour 
before, although the former was of the seventy-fifth generation, let us 
say, while the latter was of the seventy-third. Everyone was aware of 
these relationships; everyone knew his place and took pride in it. 

When the storm had finally cleared, I walked through the muddy 
streets to the great family cemetery, and in the returning sunlight 
stood reverently before the tomb so well known to me from photo- 
graphsof the great founder. Even certain unfortunate modern 



236 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

embellishments could not ruin its effect. Here was Chinese dignity, 
ineffable peace. I was in a city of grave mounds, of long-linked genera- 
tions, all connected by family piety as well as by blood to this holy 
man, who had died nearly five centuries before our era. Here was the 
trunk, the great stem, from which all these subsidiary branches had 
sprung. There seemed miles to the enclosing walls. 

A curious thought struck me: this was so different a way of life from 
that to which the Buddhists exhorted their believers. Perhaps, if the 
world went through more catastrophe, more centuries of violence and 
sorrow, with mankind progressively exterminating itself, one dark 
day the last Buddhist monk, sworn by his vows to celibacy, would 
encounter the last Buddhist nun, also under the same vows. They might 
then reconsider the dire situation; knowing that unless they consented 
to propagate their kind, mankind must vanish from the planet. I felt 
sure that no matter how earnestly they debated, the end would be 
renunciation. Then, they would decide, human misery could finally 
be ended. . 

Might this happen? It never could, in China, never so long as the 
Confucian ethic continued, founded on reality rather than on theories 
that led men astray, based on the simple satisfactions of family life, 
on the joy of decent marriage, of begetting children and watching 
them grow, of educating them and guiding them on their way. The 
proof of this lay about me among these numberless hillocks filled 
with the dead, in a cemetery that held the orderly graves of centuries, 
here where men for so long had been faithful to principles that had 
never betrayed them. 



CHAPTER xiv Celestial Time and Space 



TT WAS midwinter, or rather the frozen end of it; and Hsu Jung 
A was buying large red firecrackers. Spread upon his eager face was 
a zest in acquisition that I had come to know well. "We must," he 
said, "fittingly prepare for the New Year!" Wen-Pin by intentional 
contrast, I fancied, continued to go about his daily work stolidly; al- 
though we soon did take counsel together on important matters such 
as the purchase of the supplies necessary to last us over the long holi- 
day. "Prices of meat are bound to go up; the markets remain closed 
for so many days. If K'o Venerable Sir [an unexpectedly more formal 
tide than the one for everyday use] indeed wishes us to eat chiao-tzu 
[the seasonable meat-filled dumplings], this must soon be planned!'* 

So I ordered a complete New Year; and the pleasurable activity 
began. The meat was bought; the sounds of the cleaving knife 
familiarly pounding on our wooden chopping block kept on for 
hours. We added a provision of rice wine to be drunk hot spiced 
and pickled vegetables, melon and sunflower seeds, some very good 
tea, and sweetmeats of the traditional kinds. All went forward by the 
glow from the kitchen stove as the nights became darker and colder. 

Then one night Hsu began exploding his first firecrackers. Squat- 
ting low on the frozen ground, his face lighted by a flaming spill, he 
seemed a gleeful demon in black clothes, symbolizing what by now 
was going on in every courtyard about us. 

"Why," I addressed him idiomatically, "why-for-what do you thus 
enjoy releasing explosions?" 

337 



238 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

"It is very necessary/' he answered seriously, "first to blast the Old 
Year away, out of myself, here!" And he pointed to the center of his 
chest. "It is necessary to release explosions." 

The purchase of new clothing, my yearly gift to them, their bar- 
bering and also visits to the local bath-house, all these were com- 
pleted; we had come to New Year's eve. After dark, crackers now 
going off merrily all about us, a table was set up as a small altar in 
my outer courtyard. On it were placed the customary sacrifices to our 
Kitchen God, a popular image of brightly colored and gilded paper, 
who all year had been glued into a small carved niche over our stove. 
There were sticky sugared candies for him, to seal his mouth, one was 
told, when he went aloft on this last moonless night of the year to re- 
port in heaven about our courtyard also. There were miniature cut- 
out paper ladders hanging from the altar table, to help him on his 
journey; there was even a farthing's worth of some dried sweet grass 
as forage for his horse. 

My servants ran to their sleeping room to put on their long robes; 
they returned to kowtow; and then they burnt the old paper god in 
a crackling fire of special brambles lighted on the ground. By the 
light of the flames their faces were flushed with excitement and cheerful 
with the good food they had already begun to consume. With great 
patience the Chinese wait for their long holiday; but when it finally 
comes everything in life yields to it. Another New Year was to begin 
again! 

All through the dark hours the sound of the crackers was unceasing. 
On that one night of the year no one ever pulled down the paper 
shades at the windows, even in the most private courtyards. All lamps 
were lighted; and everywhere about, in neighbors' courtyards, families 
sat talking of years past and present, keeping vigil. It was only per- 
missible to steal a short nap before dawn, before a long day of formal 
calling. 

The more enterprising, even at that early hour, first went to a small 
temple just beyond the city walls, dedicated to the powerful God of 
Wealth. Here, pressing through the gates, crowds came long before 
it was light to burn incense. This was the center of the whole city's 
superstition on that cold morning; for to be here, early on New 



Celestial Time and Space 239 

Year's Day, was to bring luck upon enterprises in the months to 
come. For several years I went to see it all bicycling there and back. 
Saluting everyone with the traditional greeting, "New joy, new joy! 
Grow wealthy!" half frozen yet elated, sleepless and ready for much 
tea, thus I customarily began a round year as it was celebrated in 
Peking. 

Not until I had returned to the West again did I realize that, while 
like Jack-in-the-Beanstalk I had been all adventure, certain basic prin- 
ciples had been implanted in me not only about the feasts of the 
year, but about time in general. Our sense of it, like our conscious- 
ness of the air we breathe, is not under ordinary circumstances present. 
Yet take away what we have become used to and we are instantly aware 
of the change. 

This chapter, then, will describe the luxury of well-arranged Chinese 
time; and the corresponding luxury of well-arranged space. In Peking 
I came to observe that these underlay many of the charms the tourist 
was always anxious to have explained to him. Yet it required the im- 
planting of a number of cardinal principles before all could be made 
clear. 

There is a great practical difference between our calendar and that 
of the Chinese. Now that I have returned to the West, I no longer 
have the feeling that our year is as symmetrical as it once seemed. Our 
weeks of seven days, our modern week-ends; our system of short 
vacations, when those in cities dash off to see what the country looks 
like, upon our irregularly placed holidays: these do not grandly com- 
plete the four seasons as the Chinese think of them in terms of their 
own lunar rather than solar calendar. 

Conversely, of course, the ordinary Chinese peasant still knows 
almost nothing of our kind of reckoning. So little can he figure out 
what goes on outside his own "central country," that it was perhaps 
only typical when one evening in the fields some Chinese Lancelot 
Gobbo, pointing solemnly to the moon, addressed me: "Do you have 
that there, also, in your honorable country?" Yet he could probably 
have explained quite well how the waxings and wanings of this 
same planet divided his own year with almost perfect evenness. Let 



240 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

us not laugh at him too much; we are guilty of ignorance almost as 
ludicrous. 

Once it seems we were more intelligent. It is quite recently that 
we have lost a general understanding of matters that before were com- 
mon knowledge. Both farmers and sailors were more informed about 
practical astronomy until modern weather reporting made its drastic 
changes. They still feel the harmony of the seasons as never can a 
city drudge, who if one adds together all his annual fortnightly vaca- 
tions in a quarter century, will have spent only one year in the "coun- 
try" always at the same season in a lifetime. So there are many dis- 
oriented human animals in all our large cities, living ignorant of 
nature's grandest rhythms. 

To one who has lived close to China, the revolutions of the lunar 
calendar, making a much more even year than ours, are a subtle and 
constant force. Today this ancient reckoning of time is supposed no 
longer to be used; legally it has been ordered out of existence. Yet the 
Chinese farmer knows only distantly of what has supplanted it, and 
even the more educated city dweller invariably has a calendar block 
upon his wall on which both forms appear. At holiday times, to make 
gifts and to pay formal visits, you may be sure that he consults the 
lunar calendar. When the Chinese New Year approached my servants 
always bought a yellow bound paper almanac, and relied on it faith- 
fully to carry them through the next four seasons. 

Not until I had begun to think about time in terms other than those 
set from a Western childhood, did I realize how imperfect, indeed how 
wasteful of some of the joys of life, was our own system. I had 
simply taken ours as "the" calendar; never speculating how a year 
might otherwise be measured. 

Above all, I had thought of the moon as an erratic planet giving 
man chiefly the pleasures of sentiment. It was erratic, I now perceive, 
only because Western and city-bred I had never used it practically, 
noticing merely that its quarters came at irregular places in the boxes 
of our Gregorian calendar. 

Of course the waxings and wanings of the moon do not correspond 
evenly with any subdivision of the time it takes for our earth to com- 
plete one journey on its orbit around the sun. Yet the moon, as the 



Celestial Time and Space 241 

Chinese well know, has another even rhythm of its own. They so 
trust this flow and ebb of secondary light that they base their permanent 
subdivisions of the year which of course still remains a single revo- 
lution of the earth about the sun, the center of all -upon the minor 
planet. Thus they have made the lunar calendar. 

Now to live through a Chinese year is a new experience. Time has 
essentially different qualities when measured this other way; even the 
beginning and end are set at different places. We accept, good- 
naturedly and without question, the dispensation by which our own 
New Year begins somewhere in the middle of winter, one week after 
the high feast of Christmas. Yet why place a renewal here, when 
outdoors there is none? 

Even the classical world did not proceed this way. September was 
the old seventh month, as the Latin root of its name makes clear. 
Then came October, November, and December as the eighth, ninth 
and tenth, literally. This formerly made January and February the 
last two of the dozen; with an odd trimming necessary since the 
sun and moon never jibe for the end of February, an irregularity that 
with no great logic we still keep, to make everything work out at the 
old termination with approximate evenness. Then, in the antique 
world, a new year began again in March, much at the same time that 
it still does in traditional China. 

Surely this is wise. Surely the best place to make a fresh start is 
when nature herself makes it, with the renewal of growing things-*- 
with the coming of spring. To start thus is to begin at a true begin- 
ning. It is to align oneself with nature at the outset of each cycle, 
and thus to be correlated with the firmament. The greatest lack in 
our present system is that such an awareness is no longer in our 
minds. There are no proper endings nor true recommencements for 
us in time. 

Given the right place to start, how then do the Chinese subdivide 
their year? Their months also differ from each other by a day or two, 
certain ones "large" and others "small." Yet each represents a com- 
plete lunar cycle. Each goes from the dark nights of the new moon 
through its waxing on to perfect roundness and theji back to dark- 
ness again. Chinese apparently without exception look forward to the 



242 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

one or two evenings in each month when they know in advance that 
the moonlight will be at its best. I the weather is good, this is a pleasure 
to be enjoyed and re-enjoyed. For them this time always comes re- 
assuringly in the center of each month. Time, of course, never ceases 
flowing, and the waning always follows to its inevitable conclusion; 
yet as with the year, so with the month: the completed dwindling 
forever marks the moment of new birth. Optimistically, there is never 
a complete and lifeless end. The rhythm is eternal. 

Superimposed upon the harmony of these lunar months is still an- 
other system, unique I believe to China. It is based upon the four 
seasons; and consists of a subdivision of each into six smaller portions, 
roughly of a fortnight's duration, so that together for the whole year 
they total twenty-four. These are known as the Twenty-four Spells. 
Giving time progressive shading, they make a guide both to the weather 
and the agricultural labors of the cycle. Besides helping the farmer, 
they enhance even the city dweller's awareness of the passage of time 
on the land, providing him with a surprisingly accurate description 
of what is happening in the fields as the year progresses. 

The first spell of the year is named, naturally enough, Spring Begins. 
The three other preliminary spells for the other seasons have similar 
names, always of two Chinese characters apiece; Summer, Autumn, 
and Winter also "Begin." In the wintry streets of Peking, as projects 
for the coming months were discussed, one often used to overhear the 
phrase: "We shall undertake this when Spring Begins." This meant 
that the business in hand was to be postponed until after the long 
holidays, yet got round to as soon as these were over. In the old days 
even the yamen, or official courts, were sealed for this period, through- 
out the empire. 

The symmetry of the Twenty-four Spells as they developed after 
this beginning is a lesson in the workings of the Chinese mind. There 
are careful correspondences even to the forms of the characters, and 
balance wherever possible. This is what the Chinese mean by celestial 
harmony. 

Soon after the year has begun the cold diminishes. Nature, having 
created man, not only makes his life possible but provides everything 



Celestial Time and Space 243 

in due season. She now sends The Rains; and this is the second spelL* 
Animal as well as vegetable life are both quick to feel its effects; so 
the third spell is titled pleasurably rather than jocularly Insects 
Awaken. This to the Chinese culminates the arrival of early spring. 
Their passionate interest in all insect life, as shown in their painting, 
makes it for them a happy period. Life now again moves, and crawls 
and flies! Man, too, becomes more active. At this time of the year, in 
North China, come the traditional pilgrimages. (That to Miao Feng 
Shan, in the Western Hills, annually drew peasants from the whole 
countryside about Peking.) This was a time to come out into the sun 
for excursions. 

There are, in the spells, a pair for the two equinoxes, and a similar 
pair for the solstices. Again we find balance, solar counterpoint. As 
we begin the second half of spring we come to the Vernal Equinox. 
This is the season which will not come again until mid-autumn 
when the days and nights are of equal length. It is a period of even- 
ness, as opposed to the long days of summer, and the similarly long 
nights of winter. 

The Spring Equinox is followed by a spell particularly loved by 
the Chinese people. It is the holiday time of Ch'ing Ming, or "Clear 
and Bright," something like our Easter. We have all lived through 
spring days when a burden is lifted from the heart, no matter through 
what griefs we have passed. A warmer wind blows, and with wordless 
conviction we are led back, trustfully as children, by the hand to 
hope again. In China this is the season when yearly each family sweeps 
the graves of its ancestors. This is done literally, for the ordinary grave 
mounds' are merely of piled earth, and annually they must be reshaped 
and weeded. New loam is then swept up to renew the surface; and 
on top of each is set a piece of paper weighted with a stone to show 
that die task has been done. 

In the region of Peking, on clear spring days, there was always much 
sweeping among the countless graves about the plain. As one bicycled 
along any road at that time of the year, one could see small groups about 
this pious task, especially as one neared the chief feast day itself. When 
the work was finished there would be the usual kowtowing to the 
dead, to mark respect; and then, perhaps not too surprisingly, the 



244 THE YEARS THAT WERE BAT 

family in a new surge o good cheer generally made a picnic for the 
rest of the day. 

The sixth and final spell of spring reminds us that man's life is pos- 
sible only if he labors for his nourishment. It is called the Grain 
Rain. If rainfall is abundant at this time, the harvest in general will 
also be plentiful. In the rather dry region of Peking, the Chinese have 
a special proverb about this season. "Spring rain," they will tell you, 
"is precious as oil." From this spell onward man becomes absorbed 
with his labors in the fields. 

The names of the summer spells fit very well a climate like that of 
Western Europe or the eastern part of the United States. They do 
not apply to tropical lands, nor to places with dry and rainy seasons. 
We are now to have heat, plenty of it; and later it will be followed 
by biting cold. Even in the city, gauze screens are fitted to the window 
frames; p'Sngs go up in courtyards now transformed to become out- 
door living rooms. 

First, of course, Summer Begins. There is an obvious change in the 
air; pearly masses of slow-moving or almost motionless clouds are 
throned high in the deep warm sky. Then the Grain Buds. The crops 
are vital: China lives so near the earth, and is so deeply of it. As the 
cereals ripen all attention centers upon them. The next spell, Grain 
in Ear, tells us clearly what is occurring. 

There come the dazzling days of high midsummer, all brilliance and 
heat. The next spell, the Summer Solstice, provides mankind with 
the longest hours of light precisely when he can use them best. 

By the calendar we have now reached the time of the year occupied 
roughly by our own months of July and August. So what could be 
more fitting than to find the last two summer spells called first Slight 
Heat and then Great Heat? These are the fu t'ien, or dog days, when 
master and man both take off as much clothing as possible, and seek 
the shade, fanning themselves constantly, grateful for a slight breeze. 
At times, in dusty Peking, even the street dogs would whimper as 
they curled themselves upon the baked earth in whatever shadow they 
could find. The sun was now tyrant. 

Man exists by hope, though; and nothing lasts forever. A half-dozen 
spells for spring and as many for summer have passed: the lunar year 



Celestial Time and Space 245 

is half complete. What may we expect o the autumn? In Chinese 
fashion, first, Autumn Begins. There comes at last the Stopping of 
Heat; and a grateful spell this is! In recollection I seem aware of many 
Chinese verses in which one feels clearly the poet's own relief as he 
describes the delicious first cooling airs, especially if borne to him over 
moonlit waters. Man now will be civilized again; his skin will dry; he 
will wear more clothes. 

The earth meanwhile keeps turning., Soon there are the White 
Dews. The Autumn Equinox follows: night and day are again in 
balance. The face of the earth is further changed; there come on Cold 
Dews, and as vegetation withers the crops have long since been 
gathered in the Hoar Frost Falls, and autumn ends. Another quarter 
of the Chinese year is complete. 

Winter comes to end the cycle. Like the other three seasons Winter 
Begins. Then we have Light Snow, which often as not does come 
whirling through the air during this fortnight. It is followed by the 
Heavy Snow; the calendar, civilized man's great invention, has long 
since warned him of it so that from wadded robes he can now. change 
to those lined with fur. (WnJ?in and Hsu Jung always knew from 
the almanac when to get these ready for me.) 

The Winter Solstice begins the second half of this season as did 
earlier the summer one, precisely a half-year away. Another "Small" 
followed by a last "Great" finish the cycle: the Small Cold and 
finally the redoubtable Great Cold. The year ends darkly in the 
dreariest and chilliest time of all. 

Yet spring is even now prepared for. One can begin to see from 
this bare enumeration how the Chinese conception of time, of death 
ever followed by life, of an end always leading to a new beginning, 
reinforces indeed in no small measure may have helped to create 
the strong native trend toward optimism. The round year is, a great 
blessing; and Chinese brought up in the old order have always felt 
it to be so. 

One major adjustment must still be made to keep the measure of 
the lunar months in harmony with that o the earth's journey about 
the sun. Nature has for all time created these two so that they cannot 



246 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

be reduced to an exact ratio. The West invented the Leap Year; the 
Chinese have surmounted the difficulty with the "intercalary month," 
an extra lunar month that from time to time is simply added at one 
place or another to the normal twelve. This produces an occasional 
longer year of thirteen months in all, to bring the equinoxes and 
solstices even once more. When the extra month was to be added was 
a mystery known to the calendar makers; although they could work 
it out a number of years in advance. Also it was they who determined 
at what season it should come. 

The Chinese name for this month is merely a "repeated" one; and 
so there may be a repeated first month, or a repeated seventh month, 
for example, as has been decided. All documents in the old order were 
then so dated; and there could be no confusion. Strangely enough as 
"old China hands" aware of the system would frequently recount the 
weather seems to accommodate itself to this occasional readjustment. 
So if a month corresponding to our June, for example, were repeated, 
one often did have a long spring. If this always worked out, it would 
have become incredible. I can only say from my own experience that 
it did seem roughly true. The extra months accomplished their various 
tasks with smoothness, and in tranquil Peking we felt sure that the 
wagons of our small lives were securely hitched to the stars. All good 
Chinese, of course, knew how comfortable this was. 

So much for the single year, calculated by lunar months and by 
"spells" based upon the progress of the seasons. The rhythm was 
majestic, the subdivisions interrelated with repeating harmonies. Yet 
there were also larger divisions of time; first into groups of twelve 
years apiece, and beyond this, the largest summation of all, a full 
Chinese cycle of sixty years. 

For one diverting reason the grouping by twelves is much in the 
minds of simple folk. Each year is commonly designated throughout 
China by the name of an animal. The horse, die monkey, even the rat 
and the snake, find a place in the list. The year within which one was 
born, moreover, was die only one by which age was counted. So the 
commonest way, especially among illiterates, of asking a person his 
age, was to ask him, "To what do you count?" The smiling answer 



Celestial Time and Space 247 

usually came, "I count to the rooster!" or, "I count to the pig!" There 
seemed no aversion to being classified under an unattractive animal. 

Thus the approximately five hundred million Chinese alive at any 
time go through existence in annual classes recurring every twelve 
years. If someone said, "I count to the year o the horse," and it hap- 
pened again to be that year, everyone knew immediately that such a 
man had passed either his twenty-fourth or thirty-sixth, or some 
similar birthday. If the year belonged to another animal, simple calcu- 
lation forward or backward in the familiar series, left no room for 
doubt. 

One further custom, dying out in my time, marked these cycles. 
Each time one's own year in the repeating twelve returned, any man 
could wear a bright red sash binding the wide pleated waistband of 
his Chinese trousers. This was a long piece of stuff, normally of some 
plain color, passing several times about the waist, its ends tucked in 
securely so that they would not slip. So if one saw a middle-aged 
man walking along a country road with his long gown off, wearing 
a sash of crimson in China a color always emblematic of pleasure 
or celebration one knew at once that he was surely in the year of his 
life following the completion of his forty-eighth, or else his sixtieth. 
Simple inspection decided between these possibilities. Such public 
recognition of the larger multiples of the years made the progress 
through life of ordinary folk decidedly more cheerful, I believe, than 
anything we know. As in so many other ways, in China one was 
never solitary. 

It was not necessary to be accurate beyond this. One's birthday was 
never counted from the actual day of one's birth, but fi;om before it. 
The Chinese are completely logical after their own fashion: a baby 
does exist before it comes into the world. So it was always first given 
the complimentary age of one, and then another unit was added for 
each New Year. At this time, of course, changes of age proceeded on 
a mammoth scale. Amid the setting off of firecrackers and general 
jubilation, the whole nation saw the New Year in. With it literally 
everyone in the empire automatically became one year older. The 
birthday of the year was also that of the individual. How companion- 



248 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

able a system where "All under Heaven" went down through time 
together! 

There remains to discuss the largest division used by the Chinese 
in counting time. Tennyson's error in "Locksley Hall" is typical of our 
general ignorance. In that poem he makes his romantic hero cry: 
"Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay!" Surely Tennyson 
here thought of the Chinese cycle as an age, an aeon, not merely a 
decade longer than the brief half-century with which he compared it. 
Counting by hundreds in general our longest Western unit has of 
course no place whatever in the Chinese historical system; indeed it 
still means nothing there. When one had counted to sixty, one began 
again. The cycle was also considered a good normal measure for 
human existence like our somewhat longer "three score and ten." It 
covered a life span and linked together grandfather and grandson. 

The place of the single year in the succession of sixty was traditionally 
fixed by an odd system still in use today, when inscribing dates on 
pictures, for example, or on a fan, or on any article thus formally to be 
marked. The designation is made by grouping together a pair of 
"cyclical characters," which indicate that year out of all the sixty. The 
first is from a repeating set of ten, the second from a similar one of 
twelve. 

These progress, like the clicking of beads on two separate rosaries, 
each always a step further along in its own unvarying series. When 
the "ten stems," the first of the pair, have been enumerated, two more 
will still be left unused from the "twelve branches." Each goes one 
further, however, and the combinations continue. Now by mathe- 
matical law no identical grouping of these pairs can occur again 
until exactly sixty combinations have been formed. The whole then 
repeats indefinitely. 

Such an arrangement is baffling to us. I never met a Westerner who 
had any natural feeling as have learned Chinese about where in 
the grouping of the sixty ppssibilities any given pair might fit. Even 
the Chinese philosophically accept their system as being essentially 
vaguer than our own, with its years counted in two series, backward 
and forward, from the zero beginning our first Anno Domini. Yet 



Celestial Time and Space 249 

for them the fact that life has existed from the immeasurable past; 
that it now is and will go on; but that for the individual it must some- 
day end: these are the great truths. The rest is subsidiary, relatively 
unimportant. Of course one needs a temporary system, for individual 
existence. But exactly where, on a time scale running on forever, such 
and such an event occurred, seems never for them to have demanded 
a special arrangement like that which we invented. 

History as the final measuring rod was of supreme importance; but 
as we shall see, historical time was estimated differently. Here the 
norm was the dynasty, based on family vitality, and in length this was 
notoriously unpredictable. How the Chinese recorded historical time 
is shown clearly in the wording of a small text that was the very first 
piece of memorizing given to a little child in the rigid and old, yet 
grand, system of traditional education. This was the San Tzu Ching> 
or Three Character Classic, explaining in concise lines the Chinese 
cosmos. It used to be learned by heart, shouted off like a little catechism, 
by every child beginning his studies. 

First, typically enough, came certain universal truths about our 
human nature: Men arrive beginnings, Nature roots good; Natures 
mutually near, [in] practice mutually jar, etc. Then the planets are 
numbered, followed by the living creatures the world in which man 
lives. 

After this came a most condensed history of the classics, the great 
Books of Wisdom, then of the successive Chinese dynasties, only a 
line or two for each. How long were they? One was never told the 
dates in a series of years, but typically how often the throne was 
transmitted. The supreme power was bequeathed by one ruling house 
only once, by another following it no less than twenty times, and so 
on. By then the genius of the family, which originally secured the 
transcendent reward, had inevitably diminished; and a new dynasty 
"with the will of Heaven*' so that success was invariably legitimized 
would supplant the old. Here was a human measurement of time. 
It put old wisdom, very early, into young heads. 

One peculiarity of the cyclical system, which never failed to annoy 
the Westerner, was that it never seemed to have occurred to the 
Chinese to nunjber these cycles. One cannot refer to them in any 



250 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

succession. There was not even a mythical point of commencement, 
for one began with timeless mythology. A paradox of no little con- 
sequence ensues. In dating works of art, one often knows from an 
inscription exactly where, within a period of sixty years, a painting, 
let us say, was executed. But which sixty? One must try to judge on 
grounds of style, which is notoriously tricky terrain. Further, when 
artistic changes are as slow as in the lethargic currents of late Chinese 
art, this often can not be stated with any assurance. Here sixty years 
of "Cathay" may be as nothing to a critical European half-century! 
So one learned to live constantly with bland puzzles on "dated" 
scrolls hanging upon the walls of one's own rooms. For the Westerner, 
to be thus frustrated seemingly with such negligence in the matter 
of proper placing on one definitive time-scale is a serious matter. A 
Chinese accepts the situation differently. "Perhaps we only do know," 
he might retort, "the place within its cycle when such and such an 
object was made. Perhaps its usefulness and interest were never 
planned originally to outlast sixty years, which is two generations in 
any case. This cannot be of great importance! What have mortals to 
do," he may further muse, "bothering to fix small dates to all eternity?" 

Placing historical events was not so vague as this, especially if they 
had anything to do with a given reign. For in the imperial system, the 
least small happenings related to an emperor were catalyzed by a 
current that ran from this one culminating figure through the whole 
of the social structure beneath him. To relate events to times of reigns 
was instinctive; and it even became natural to all foreigners who lived 
long in Peking, where imperial survivals abounded. Elsewhere, 
especially in today's world, the feeling for a pyramidal social structure 
has grown faint indeed; but the leaders of our own time never seem 
to dominate quite as did the old emperors and kings. 

Now, as has been mentioned, the use of the Emperor's personal 
name was completely forbidden to his subjects. He was always to be 
referred to obliquely as the Superior One, or else as the Son of Heaven; 
or after his death by his "temple name." Yet to designate his reign, or 
portions of it, for public use, special pairs of auspicious characters 
were selected, which were then daily on men's tongues. Combinations 



Celestial Time and Space 251 

were chosen such as "The Road Is Bright," or "Transmitted Brilliance," 
or in general any similar pair that might bring good fortune. 

A feature of these designations was that they could start at will, 
and that a single Emperor might have several, or even quite a number. 
Apart from superstition, which must often have been involved, they 
were made to correspond either with the character of the reign or else 
with the spiritual progress or perhaps its reverser of the Emperor for 
whom they were selected. 

Once chosen, though, this combination of characters dated all official 
events conveniently from the first, or some following year of a so-called 
"reign date." And providing one knew the reign dates by heart or 
looked them up in a manual all was well. 

The Ming and Ch'ing Emperors, rulers of the last two dynasties, 
had each only one reign date apiece; and this further simplified the 
arrangement. So if one arbitrarily learned, as one soon did, that 
Ch'ien Lung or Virile Eminence was not the true name of an Emperor, 
but actually the designation of all the years when a certain sovereign, 
whose actual name was private, had held the throne; and if one knew 
that the First Year of Ch'ien Lung was our own 1736, further deduc- 
tions were simple enough. In official inscriptions, and in all official 
documents, the year of the reign was appended invariably, clearly. 
That, to a Chinese, was sufficient. 

In space as well as in time, I believe that throughout their history 
the Chinese have been unusually sensitive to the harmonies of nature. 
The matter is crucial. The place of the sun on its daily course with 
relation to themselves, to their dwellings, indeed to their whole system 
of building, even to the planning of walled cities: this was to them 
a primary consideration. 

"How" they seem to ask a silent question "can anything be right 
and proper until a human being has put himself into correct relation 
with the planet that is the very source of our light and warmth, that 
gives us tie day, our crops, our food and clothing?" The necessity for 
correct orientation has become so ingrained in the Chinese that they 
cannot imagine the lack of system by which we habitually live, nor 



252 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the way in which with far greater mechanical means at our disposal 
we still lightly ignore what to them are essentials. 

The sun, we all know, rises in the east, and travels toward the 
south in its westward course. To secure the full and continuing effect 
of its light and heat in our latitudes it is obvious that one must there- 
fore build facing due south: any oblique angle is less effective. Then 
at noon shadows will be cast directly north, in a line perpendicular 
to one running east and west. On such a north-south axis, we have 
seen, was laid out the great plan of Peking. The system goes far 
deeper than this in arrangements for daily living. In Peking there was 
not a house of any size, even the humblest, that was not oriented to 
the cardinal points of the compass. 

How much personal comfort such orientation of domestic building 
achieves is not generally realized. If we take the average domestic 
courtyard, built up on all four sides, it is obvious that under this 
system the main house, which is invariably the best, and is always if 
possible built larger and deeper than the others, will receive the most 
sunlight It always faces due south. The west and east side-houses 
will then have the good light divided between them, the former 
receiving it in the morning, the latter in the afternoon. 

The southern buildings, "reversed foundations" the Chinese call 
them since they turn their backs to the light will receive no sun 
at all, except perhaps at the very beginning and end of the day in 
summer, when the sun rises and sets somewhat to the north of east 
and west. These are in consequence always the least desirable buildings 
in any Chinese courtyard; and they are used for the humblest pur- 
poses. Here may be the kitchens, or storerooms of one variety or an- 
other, or waiting rooms for tradesmen. 

There is a common proverb in Peking, where the prevailing winds 
blow from the northwest I translate it literally: 

Rich men use not east-south rooms: 
Summer not cool; winter not warm. 

These are obviously inferior exposures, especially since the outer walls 
of nearly all courtyard buildings in China are windowless, and light 
is not received from more than one direction. 



Celestial Time and Space 253 

In the dull days of winter, when the sun would be most welcome, 
the "reversed" rooms are even less desirable. At that time, because of 
the well-calculated angle of the projecting eaves of the roof over the 
south-facing main hall, the amenity of its orientation is most appre- 
ciated. The builders of Peking, in planning these gently curving eaves, 
apparently learned over the centuries to use exactly the right pitch. 
Since the sun comes much nearer to the horizon in winter, the eaves 
then allow it full sweep indoors; in cold weather it streams into the 
"formal room" of the main house the whole day long. Then, after the 
spring equinox, as the sun rises daily higher in the sky, its light ample 
in any event, arxd as the weather grows always warmer, it is good to 
exclude its heat. The overhanging eaves now shield walls and windows 
perfectly; all through the summer the best rooms are in the shade as 
was planned, with nothing left to chance. 

To the Chinese all the foregoing is simply rational arrangement. 
How little of it do we know in die West, where in many of our 
ordinary dwellings, let alone those deliberately picturesque, until quite 
recently a whole house might be so planned that not a single room 
received the sunlight really best suited for its use! 

There is a further unexpected corollary to this Chinese system. One 
can tell the time of day in a city such as Peking with bricks and 
mortar. Every court, every wall, becomes a constantly useful sundial. 
For if all buildings run either east and west, or north and south, and 
the paving of their courtyards is regular, then it follows that from the 
shadow even of a twig along or across any line, one can tell when 
the magic hour of noon has arrived. Then all shadows run north, and 
even indoors those cast across the paved floor of a main hall make a 
regular pattern of its columns, its windows and their tracery. Earlier 
in the forenoon, with the sun in the east, all shadows slant more or 
less sharply toward the northwest; in the afternoon the angles are 
reversed. 

So I learned not to be surprised, if I asked my servants what time 
of day it might be, to see them merely cast a quick glance about, and 
state categorically: "Perhaps near to eleven" (of our own system, 
which had come into general use), or "Surely, now, at least half -past 



254 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

four!" And they would be so nearly right, by a Western watch, that 
with the unhurried tempo of ordinary living in Peking, one could 
dispense with further calculation. 

Surely the reader will have asked himself, though, if all was so 
perfect on sunny days, what did one do upon those when it rained? 
The answer is, in China: "Nothing; nothing in so far as possible!" 
That after all is what the birds and beasts, in their animal wisdom, 
also do. The Chinese, further, simply hates to get wet; and one must 
not be too contemptuous of this aversion since his clothes do not 
protect him as do our modern raincoats or leather shoes. Native out- 
door clothing, except only perhaps the thatched grass coat of the old- 
fashioned fisherman, simply invites moisture; and cloth slippers also 
wear poorly when wet. 

So one goes out-of-doors as little as possible, and makes other plans. 
There ensue the pleasures of an unexpected withdrawal, of another 
use of time. Teachers fail to arrive; one changes a project to go out to 
lunch; if it is actually raining that is considered enough of a message 
for anyone. The joys of a session of recapitulation, with its familiar 
accompaniment of reminiscence, may follow. It is relaxation like this, 
rare nowadays, that restores health to the mind and serenity to the 
spirit. 

He who has not passed rainy days in a deserted courtyard, even the 
familiar street cries abandoned, the rain dripping down from the eaves 
hour by hour, gurgling as it fills the drains, while perhaps he reads 
old letters, or is bemused by an out-of-date newspaper, or else indulges 
in an orgy of rearrangement, to consolidate old possessions and 
integrate new; such a man does not know a Chinese variety of repose. 
He has missed one lesson of a philosophy genuinely cheerful in part 
because it has had time in which to integrate itself. 

Many Chinese poems reproduce this mood of respite, granted with 
the patience of the rain; perhaps in a withdrawn gallery of some 
solemn mountain monastery; perhaps under the awning of a small 
boat moored under bending willows beside a famous lake; perhaps 
looking out from some picturesque tower room, with the rain splashing 
bucketfuls of water on banana leaves in a little court below or 



Celestial Time and Space 255 

perhaps merely in the familiar setting, yet changed by the storm and 
lighted by memory, of home. 

Another phase of the Chinese concept of space has already been 
touched on: the regular placing of any objects formally related to each 
other. So much do the Chinese assume that all proper arrangement 
will be symmetrical that they are at a loss if this is not possible. Once 
I was sent five white oleander bushes, handsome plants, which we had 
place for only opposite the doorway to my main house on either side 
of my central lotus tub. Two apiece flanking it went well enough; 
but what of the fifth? The servants thought it over at length, and 
then finally came to me with a statement of fact. "We cannot," said 
they, "use such a surplus plant; there exists no method for this!" So 
we simply gave it away, to be a central object for someone else; and 
then enjoyed the others. 

Once, also, I happened to show to my Elder Born an illustration 
from a British magazine, of King Edward VIII, seated at a handsome 
desk of marquetry placed obliquely in the corner of some palace room. 
(It was nearing the time of the abdication; and Mr. Wang and I were 
having long discussions on kingship,) He looked at the picture earnestly 
and silently; and I felt increasingly what must have been in his eyes 
the glaring difference between such casual placing of furniture and 
what would have been the Chinese arrangement. Finally he put the 
magazine down, incredulous in spite of all his experience with 
"external country" oddities. He gave me a slightly weary smile; "And 
he a King!" he sighed. 

So I lived on in Peking, among the Chinese, to whom all of the 
above was too natural to require explanation. I had only to bicycle to 
the Legation Quarter on a short errand, though, to leave this local 
world and find myself in another that was quite unaware of much 
that I had discovered, unsoothed because untouched by these har- 
monies. For a long while I tried to define to myself the difference, 
deeply sensed in such moments of transition. Finally I hit upon a pair 
of words that still seem to me to sum up the Chinese feeling for time 



256 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

and space: "cosmic consciousness" is what makes their attitude 
different. 

The average Chinese still remains close to the eternal fluctuations 
of nature. He is aware of how they minister to the needs of his life. 
He is, though, so close to this cosmic play, so much part of it himself, 
that he is almost unconscious of his riches, using these splendid things 
freely and happily. The pattern that this imparts to his life is peculiarly 
Chinese. The whole race apparently possesses millennial balance; so 
much so that even if all go ill as mortal affairs are liable to for so 
much of the timeyet cradled in the universe men can know that 
this world will at least alternate between darkness and light. The 
rhythm, like that o the planets themselves, may be so slow as sorely 
to try small human patience; but it is sure. 

During seven years of such living, these feelings ended by becoming 
very much my own. I could even afford to float buoyantly upon time 
because of them. To my good fortune only the fewest obligations cut 
across quiet hours of study in such a way as to break the harmony. 
During the day the architectural regularity of the city made me ever 
conscious of the sun; at night the moon became my calendar. 

Living near to the Forbidden City and the imperial lakes, I could 
watch at its stateliest the movement of both planets through the year. 
As for the moon, in summer and on the lakes, to know in advance 
what its light would be became of a certain practical importance. For 
the largest sloping-roofed barges, which had belonged to the Empress 
Dowager and could still be rented for evening parties, were naturally 
most in demand when the moon was full. One Western landlady of 
a local hotel, who wished to do well for her visiting tourists, was said 
to have reserved the best of them regularly for die evening of the 
sixteenth day in every lunar month during summer weather. She 
knew that the moon was then at its brightest and roundest, rather 
than one evening earlier. Thus, Chinese fashion, did we refine upon 
our pleasures. 

My servants, of course, were well trained in these matters. If to test 
them, some serene evening, I might ask how the month was coming, 
a mere glance upward and the answer, as in telling time, would come 
promptly. If we then checked the date with the almanac, always handy 



Celestial Time and Space 257 

in the kitchen, it was remarkably often correct. So we lived tranquilly, 
within these marvels, "cosmically conscious." 

How deeply this had affected me I was not to know until I had 
returned once more to America. My first few days, even in New 
York which, as an island, does happen to face nearly true south, so 
that many of its streets are from a Chinese point of view properly 
oriented made me feel curiously alien, chiefly because of a now 
familiar sense obviously shared by none about me. There was the 
glorious sun, almost unused, certainly not in any such pleasant way 
as I had become accustomed to in China. Better provision was made 
for catching its light and warmth in the hovels of Peking than here 
in a metropolis! 

There was also the moon, looking cold and lost in the sky, as it 
still looks to me in the West, even now. No one made any civilized 
arrangements, calculating them in advance, for the pleasures with 
which all of us had enjoyed its seemingly brighter disc and pearlier 
light, in Peking. No one in the great city ever seemed to pay the 
slightest attention to its progress; its rising and setting, its waxing and 
waning, were unnoticed. Western senses were apparently impervious 
to these planetary rhythms. 

I remember sitting down somewhat disconsolately to write a letter 
to a friend still in China, upon one of my first days "home," and 
dating it with sudden feeling: "From a city that never looks at the 
moon, beside a river flowing unnoticed to the sea." After gentle Peking, 
where the soaring moonrise might take hours that were simply and 
happily given to it, the contrast was grim. No wonder Westerners had 
never painted such scenes as the Chinese love, with the honey-colored 
low disc round and large, seen from an open place at the edge of a 
precipice, while seated tranquilly upon a pine-sheltered height some 
Chinese philosopher might be found contemplating in it the universe. 



CHAPTER xv The Welcome While Is Over 



EVEN after the passage of time, to contemplate the end of my 
adventure is not easy. The hour came when, after all my hopes 
and plans to make secure my foothold among these marvels, I was 
unceremoniously put out. For a long while, during the years of the 
Japanese occupation of Peking, the Westerner there had been un- 
touched and unharmed. Nevertheless he did live more and more like 
a man who, although physically comfortable, knows that he has a 
fatal disease, clawing even at that moment in the dark at his vitals. 
Mutely I began to say farewell to many gentle pleasures, sensing that 
each time might become the last. 

This struck at one side of Chinese life with peculiar effect. The 
accustomed and constant satisfaction of hunting and buying the most 
diverse objects for their own sake, in this land where acquisition was 
one of the recognized pleasures of living, suddenly ceased. If all could 
now so easily be torn away, or might have to be abandoned per- 
emptorily, carting further purchases back to my own courts began 
to lose meaning. It was chilling to sit with what was about me, no 
longer cherishing any desire to add, looking at what might only 
prove cumbersome to transport halfway round a globe at war. 

This was the first prying up of the scales of my armor. After long 
and blissful freedom from interference, I was being hustled by what 
I recognized at once as a giant force; and I felt shamefully a pygmy 

258 



The Welcome While Is Over 259 

in its presence. My unwillingness to leave had added to it a vexation 
produced by the behavior of the Chinese about me. They, apparently, 
long ago had known that all of us were birds of passage; that we 
came and then, sooner or later, of course all left. They were aware 
far better than we, it was obvious, how from now on time would pass 
for us, and what would happen in it. Plans for the future shrank to 
nothing. The present was flat without them. Life became dreary, and 
what had never happened before tedious. 

Then events changed their tempo. As the year began that was to 
end with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it became evident that 
time was beginning to run for us comfortably ensconced as we still 
were within the shell of old Peking with a different, a Western, 
speed. The long rich tranquil hours were over; and the seven years 
that had been ones of such abundance for me had run their course. 

The American flag now raised over my courtyards in intermittent 
days of crisis, and my American passport, hitherto granting proud 
immunity and effortless extraterritoriality, became symbols of the 
fundamentally different kind of life (even if I still hoped to remain 
in China) that I now should have to plan. The underlying facts had 
always existed, of course, but as the old liberties and privileges 
began here and there to evaporate, they became coldly visible. American 
relations with Japan also became worse; American citizens, even in 
tranquil Peking, were the target of hostile Japanese notice. 

We strengthened our ties with the embassy. Indeed as the tension 
gradually increased, we were requested to appear there personally. 
Two marines from the embassy guard, cleanly dressed, slow-moving 
and tall, would arrive mounted on large well-groomed horses at my 
outer gate. The servants would run to fetch me, and we exchanged a 
word or two of hurried Chinese as they looked on; then they would 
hand me one or another official notice and ride slowly away again. 
In a day or two I would find myself in the office of some Secretary of 
Embassy, sitting in an American leather upholstered chair, while we 
talked over the "situation." 

Those like myself without vital employment were asked to leave 
first, so that, if these "ifs" becoming ever more ominous things 
broke badly, there would be fewer fellow citizens left stranded, with- 



2&> THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

out ships, in an impossible situation. After such visits, American 
voices and American reasoning would for some hours drown the 
clamor o Chinese sights and sounds about me. I went bicycling 
thoughtfully northward to my quarter of the city, toward home- 
could it now, I was asking, even remain "home" ? already remote 
from what was about me. 

The feeling of increasing estrangement came to focus one wintry 
day as I was pedaling a somewhat bumpy way across the marble 
bridge separating the north and central lakes, in the now doubly 
forlorn pleasure grounds of the imperial palace. Suddenly I was 
forcibly struck by something that must have been going on for some- 
time: the whole effect of the buildings on the shores, even the light 
on them, had completely changed for me. 

This Chinese past was now rejoining itself, collapsing and fore- 
shortening, becoming hourly more distant; while I, with equal in- 
evitability, was also rapidly heading whither? We no longer fitted 
together. I became more of a stranger to what was about me, in that 
moment, than I had been seven long years before, when from this 
same old bridge I had caught my first sight of the magnificent 
prospect. 

So I decided to break the pattern. It was a conscious act of will. 
Another self now perforce took control; while the Chinese part, help- 
less, had mutely to watch itself step by step put out of existence. 
Preliminary visits were made to what before had seemed improbable 
places coming from my quiet part of town to steamship offices, to 
the packers, to shippers. I returned home to tea without flavor, to 
survey my once so confidently acquired possessions in terms of cubic 
feet, all to be disarranged, torn apart, and uprooted. I acted mechani- 
cally, stiffly, accomplishing what was needed, making decisions the 
meaning of which I knew I should laboriously have to discover later, 
in time become colorless. 

Then the day came when, like a surgical incision, the first object 
was carted out into my courtyard, and delivered to a waiting crew 
of five or six men equipped with lavish supplies of excelsior, wrapping 
materials, boxes and crates. In no time every room in the house was in 



The Welcome While Is Over 261 

confusion. In that courtyard the work went on for the better part of 
a month; but I had at least determined not to be separated from my 
possessions and how very many they seemed now to have become! 
Overhead the midwinter sky was freezing. All of us drank much tea, 
in intervals of rest; I had ordered an unusually fine quality of leaves 
for everyone. Within me a numb mind was struggling to find a clue. 

One physical circumstance reinforced my impressions. In these days 
of emotional uprooting I had also to go to the American hospital 
(hitherto almost unvisited) for a painful extraction of the first tooth 
that I had ever lost. This was another end to the old sense of well- 
being. The symbol went deep; under gray skies I was forced to reflect 
on how impermanent and transitory were human plans. So I cycled 
in wind and dust along the frozen lanes, between engagements for 
surgical dressings and the slow, cumbersome, inevitable packing, as 
the large wooden cases now began swallowing even my tables and 
chairs. 

At night the kerosene lamps cast their light from different angles 
upon the walls, which were themselves stripped and becoming alien. 
The lamps were placed on other pieces of furniture, in other parts of 
once familiar rooms. My carpets and rugs, my growing plants and 
flowers, the accustomed piles of books, all the amenities of the way in 
which I had lived, were gone. Even smells had changed; and a fine 
gray dust settled perpetually over all surfaces, entering one's nostrils, 
begriming one's fingernails. 

All this while, like a judged prisoner, I was pacing the stone court- 
yards of my mind, ceaselessly roving backward and forward, seeking 
at least some cause in my verdict, and to find out if possible how to 
mitigate it. My general mood had become less one of regret than 
chagrin. 

Finally we reached bare rooms. Coolies carted the largest cases to 
a godown in the Legation Quarter, a number of straining figures 
slowly lifting the heavy boxes together, to get them over the high 
sills. The effect, at such' moments, was uncomfortably like a funeral. 
High crates powdered with snow stood in the court against my inner 
windows, stark under the wintry sky. As day changed to night they 
seemed presences. Indoors my bare matting showed straw color where 



262 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

vanished pieces of furniture once had stood; elsewhere it was soiled 
and worn by feet on familiar errands already in the past. 

Little was left to me but a few pieces of simulated Western furniture, 
of wicker, to be abandoned at the end. Even my bright red and blue 
wadded cotton quilts, once stitched by a cheerful amah, completed 
with pride and pleasure, were to be given to my servants after my last- 
night in the house, before my train journey to the sea. I read late, 
alone, now in empty rooms; my heart felt curiously even more hollow. 

Accounts had to be put in order; many small hard tasks gone 
through to make an end. Here a pattern was to be demolished, there 
some pleasant custom ended. Bills were paid for the last time for 
fuel or water, for local provisions. So much had been for simple 
Chinese living. I drank up my last wine; gave away once precious 
small hoards of Western supplies. I was shrinking my base by inches 
and the future still remained completely featureless. 

In moments when the flesh grew weary this became slow agony. 
Fatigue overwhelmed all of us, the servants as well as myself. Yet we 
kept plodding slowly through duty after duty. Sleep, when it came, 
was the only anodyne to relieve what had become a time of sorrow. 

Finally the night came that was to be my last in Peking. Farewell 
visits to friends and acquaintances, exhausting with overmuch talk, and 
particularly fatiguing when interspersed with hollow assumptions of 
brightness: these too had been made. Bedtime came. It was a relief 
to have the lamp extinguished, and to hear the servants' slippered 
footfalls disappear, to be alone in the dark, in that room, for the last 
time; still trying with a tired mind to keep thinking, to find out if 
it were possible eventually how to preserve some part of this world 
now in complete dissolution. It had been (I was already using the 
past tense) so kind and fair to me. 

The last morning dawned, windless and mild; the last breakfast was 
consumed, on inferior crockery, chiefly with care to eat it decently, 
and not to gulp. A small pile of traveling luggage, everything long 
ago planned for and in order, was on the dismantled %'&ng. From 
now on action became curiously mechanical. At least one knew what 
to do! 



The Welcome While Is Over 263 

The hired rickshas were announced. One of Wn-Pin's relatives 
sat in the kitchen, to be watchman behind a door to which I should 
not return. My little dog ran out of the open barrier gate to examine 
the smells of the lane. Farewell with him, thus oblivious, was better so. 
Then Wen-Pin and Hsu Jung, and I, all three of us, mounted, stooped 
over in our rickshas until the shafts were lifted; and the pullers began 
bearing us rapidly along, jolting past the humble sights of the everyday. 

The morning was still early; the street criers calling, hawking 
familiar things to those with other destinies. Men with burdens on 
carrying poles sidled by. For me it was a ride in a tumbril. The servants 
had on their best clothes. Their familiar faces, as I glanced at them 
sidewise while we rode, were rigid with emotion. 

Everything turned rapidly past us. Other men were tranquil. We 
reached the Water Gate of the railway station, where I was to take 
my place in a train to bear me to Tientsin, and beyond to the sea. 
Thence a small ship would deliver me to the Japanese port, where 
finally a larger one would be waiting to take me back to the unreal 
world of the West. 

All was now spinning itself down to a matter of minutes. I in- 
spected the railway carriage, finding that I was to share part of it 
with a high-ranking Japanese general and his suite. The unaccustomed 
plush of its upholstery it was years since I had been on such a boat 
train was a repulsively bright Prussian blue; and the jingle of the 
numerous accessories to the Japanese uniforms also grated on raw 
nerves. 

The general, I discovered, was being given a ceremonious farewell. 
The broad roofed platform under the high city wall was crowded with 
the Japanese military of many services, as well J as with pigeon-toed 
Japanese women, in kimonos, white bands bearing black characters 
fastened obliquely over their shoulders, stating that; they had come 
from the "Sun-Root Country" to "comfort" Japanese troops. The 
often repeated mechanical bows of everyone present seemed robotlike. 

I descended to the platform again. Time kept passbg. Now were 
to come the last farewells of all, those with my servants. They had 
accompanied me here, for these brief moments, onto territory formerly 
their own, but now taken over by their enemies. It was rumored that 



264 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

the Japanese so little liked to see ordinary Chinese come and go in 
this place, that if they remained too long they might suddenly be 
seized and beaten. All of us knew this; but they had insisted upon 
escorting both me and my belongings as far as possible. To have 
refused to permit it would have caused a wound, after now many 
years, to the very "face" about which they themselves had taught me 
so much. 

The moment came for me to return to the train. We ceased inter- 
mittent exhortations and the repeating of remarks already made. The 
stumpy little general and his small court mounted the doorway to 
our common carriage; and he stood in the entry, giving last-minute 
audiences, with stiff bows from the waist down, all of which were 
returned with the slow precision of automata. 

We had to concentrate on what was left for us to do! Wn-Pin 
stepped forward, to make his manners. "I ask for the well-being of 
your family," he said. He became thus Confucian and formal, yet I 
knew that he only wished to be able to behave correctly to the last. 
His face was flushed and his phrases of politeness stereotyped; but 
each of us clung to them at that moment as to a single solidity in a 
dissolving world. 

I glanced at Hsu Jung to see that suddenly his face had become 
wrinkled and dark red. He was in unashamed and bitter tears. 
Breeding at this critical moment did not uphold his less disciplined 
nature, but his feelings came from the heart. Thus the three of us 
came through our ordeal. We had behaved in the way that men must 
at the ends of things; and as all Chinese know from poems throughout 
their history, partings are among the fateful and poignant moments 
in life. "There is no sorrow like the sorrow of parting!" Then they 
turned and disappeared, as I sought my seat. 

After a delay I felt the first slow motion of the train; so it was 
really over! I was leaving Peking now beyond its walls. I must have 
sat motionless for a long, a very long, while. There was no more any 
need to stir. Finally I realized that the train was rattling along, chuffing 
resonantly amidst the ordinary fields of familiar North Chinese land- 



The Welcome While Is Over 265 

scape. There, beyond the plush upholstery and the compartment 
windows, untouched and unhurrying, was the eternal life of the land 
I was leaving. 

Smoke from the engine from time to time spread a whiteness over 
the panes, obscuring die scene. Then it would slowly evaporate and 
all would come clear again: mud huts, stunted trees, a duck pond, 
grave mounds of many shapes and sizes, all so well-known. Yet I was 
being borne steadily away. Familiar birds, black and like crows but 
with white patches on their breasts and wings, were flying as they 
always did over the fields in winter, fanning out to wheel or to alight. 
Everywhere were blue-robed peasants, stooping or pulling, engaged 
in one or another of their endless tasks. 

Somehow very gradually that sight of quiet work in the impersonal 
fields stole comfortingly within me as a first and faint consolation. If 
all were thus simple under the light of day, in its sensible colors of 
tawny and blue, with its familiar black and white birds, if China 
labored thus eternally with such deep and unconscious faith in its labor, 
then I saw it, for a moment, clear my own, now past, life bound 
to this land might elsewhere also not be wholly without another 
harvest. My loyalty, I knew, would last. So the train rambled on first 
toward the ugly spreading port of Tientsin and finally to salt air and 
the sea; and I painfully began in weariness my first steps to descend 
from lost heights back to tie everyday again. 

I realized that a significant part of my life was over. Even as the 
objects in the fields had kept disappearing intermittently in clouds of 
white smoke, I somehow knew deeply that there was to be no going 
back. Something had stopped. The next days were stiff with an almost 
surgical pain; fatigue became mental coagulation. It was not difficult 
to assume the role of passenger on a small coastal boat, as we passed 
the islands off the shores of Korea. But to lie, during the day, in my 
upper bunk, when the cabin I shared with anodier passenger was 
vacant: this, with liberty now to allow my mind to turn to me any 
aspects it would, this was the only thing I desired. It was long before 
my thoughts began to shape themselves as I have tried to set them 



266 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

out below; long indeed before I should come to be able to write these 
words of valediction. 

Back in the busy West life began anew. Like the fatfleshed cattle 
in Pharoah's dream, the years that for me also had been seven, passed 
irrecoverably by. Like all privilege, too, while they had been mine, 
they had borne within themselves a specious reasoning: why not con- 
tinue thus forever since mere existence was so agreeable? The leaner 
years that replaced them bore a different stamp. A fundamental lack 
of sympathy with existence itself on these other and lesser terms 
brought with it if not rebellion for that would have been idle at 
least revulsion. Hope deferred may have entailed some confusion of 
thinking as well. There were moments, not so much desperate as 
consummately boring, when the way ahead seemed to lead only from 
the heights where I had once joyfully basked in the Chinese sun, 
irrevocably downward, into darker stretches. My destiny had been 
altered. 

Then, oddly enough, even as I was almost coming to believe that I 
should have to accustom myself thus to live permanently, there 
trembled ahead a gradual awareness of further change. First it had 
seemed only a slightly greater ability in bearing what I must, in 
handling the routine of this further, not very attractive, daily life. It 
seemed to stretch ahead like some unending urban perspective, like dull 
buildings on a long street, successive and truncated slices, without the 
benison of foliage. The glories of sun and cloud, of wind and running 
water, of comforting nearness to the earth, that to me also had been 
North China, were absent from these scenes. 

There occurred what must have been an invisible and very slow 
shifting of hidden layers, a reclamation going on deep under the 
surface, far from sight and beyond control. What needed to be dis- 
covered was something new again! What could it be, thus beyond 
my joys and sorrows, beyond tie fat and lean of years gone by? 

At least there was no excitement and no tension while the depths 
were shifting. The East had taught me composure. I could also see 
clearly as one untempted by a vice reads easily the thoughts of those 
struggling with ithow little peace of soul existed anywhere about 



The Welcome While Is Over 267 

me. Faces were twisted and swollen from the sharp pangs of prob- 
lems within. Everywhere there were people, thousands of them, so 
caught in the shifting circumstance of their complex existences that 
they could not by any chance perceive certain larger issues now visible 
to me. I had lived one part of my life quite for itself, without illusory 
goals demanding disproportionate sacrifice; and I had therefore known 
true freedom. 

Because I had remained long in China, further, I apparently also 
had other awarenesses. I had heard, for instance, the unrepressed wail- 
ings of natural grief, over my walls in Peking, in the long nights of 
neighbors' funerals. I had first shuddered, now long ago, at these and 
other varieties of sorrow and affliction, put away from the surface in 
the West, screened or hidden and thus never fully understood; and 
I had gradually learned to live more comfortably, more honesdy, with 
mortality. 

In Asia men thus came more simply out of the soil, and they re- 
turned to it also more simply. There was less room for the elaborate 
misrepresentation of the chief purposes of life that is one of the strange 
fruits of our present civilization, growing ever more fatally apart 
from nature. "Only birth and death are great," had said Confucius 
himself. This now appeared simple and true. "Take large things as 
small, small things as nonexistent," he had also advised. 

Yet my admiration for the Chinese system, which in so many ways 
had enlarged and helped to free me, was never absolute. I had learned, 
not from China as it actually was, but from what it had been in its 
great past; from simple souls, the children of its soil, eager in pleasure 
and enduring in sorrow who today were only passive material in the 
hands of stronger and far less admirable characters. There was thus 
no call to continue back in the West to "Sinify" myself, to evade 
responsibility in the pretended interest of some spiritual custodianship, 
while actually fleeing from reality. 

Nor had I ever felt tempted to jettison the values of earlier years, 
spent in contemplation of worlds other than Chinese, worlds to which 
I, was now by destiny returned. I was of the West, of the one global 
civilization of our time. I had no thought to struggle against this, and 



268 THE YEARS THAT WERE FAT 

silently took facts as I found them. Unlike those about me, however, 
I was aware that across the seas I had stumbled across a true discovery; 
and in happy years there I too had known bliss as from "Another Cave 
of Heaven." 

First I had abounded; and then I had been abased, painfully. Now 
something further and curious was happening. Through reintegration 
the losses were turning into gains, turning from lacks to new pos- 
sessions, new wealth henceforth never to be lost again. As this rec- 
lamation proceeded I found that I possessed one valuable technique. 
Since perseverance over the lean years, after China, had brought these 
results, willingness to continue patiently in this same course over a 
whole new front, comprising both worlds, was surely the only attitude 
to adopt. What was now retrieved, what was further salvaged, became 
grandly permanent, dependable as land rising out of the sea. One 
could walk about with a whole and saved body upon it, grateful for 
its blessings as a mariner after shipwreck. 

I do not know that there is more to say beyond this: "More than 
this the Lord doth not require of thee." To be able to front the un- 
known problems of tomorrow with maturity is surely all that one can 
ask of life. The slow heave of the will in action is an act of labor from 
which no slightest dispensation is ever accorded; daily we must earn 
each day's existence. Yet properly seen now as from two worlds 
away the beautiful and the less fair, the fat and the lean, are not 
themselves ultimates. They become in the end only passing uneven- 
nesses in the road, which make the incidents of a long journey over 
hill and down dale. It is the journey that is important; and on the 
way to its unrevealed goal, ever shimmering somewhere in the mists 
ahead, one finally leaves all that one has passed lying somewhere 
behind on the road.